The quest for a universal flu vaccine has attracted significant attention as problems with traditional flu shots have grabbed headlines in recent years. Now, leading flu vaccine player Seqirus has teamed up with the Human Vaccines Project's Universal Influenza Vaccine Initiative to provide assistance in the effort.
UIVI launched late last year with the goal to accelerate universal flu vaccine development, specifically by looking at how the immune system develops responses against multiple strains. The group brings together industry, academia, nonprofits and government. This year, UIVI says it will "undertake the most comprehensive clinical analysis of immune responses to flu yet conducted" to boost vaccine development.
Seqirus, for its part, said the group will utilize artificial intelligence to continually improve flu vaccine R&D.
A universal flu shot has been called a "holy grail" in vaccine development, and recent efficacy problems with traditional flu shots have brought new attention to the field. Numerous industry players are advancing their universal flu vaccine programs in the clinic. In recent months, Israel biotech BiondVax pushed its universal flu vaccine program into phase 2 testing in the U.S. with help from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The company is also prepping for phase 3 testing in Europe.
Meanwhile, U.K. biotech Imutex recently reported phase 2b results showing that its shot, FLU-v, boosted immune responses and lowered infection rates. Imutex is a joint venture between clinical research specialist hVIVO and drug development organization SEEK Group.
In an interview, SEEK CEO Gregory Stoloff said the shot is ready for phase 3 testing and that the biotech is talking with Big Pharma companies about a potential partnership. He said the vaccine could be available in two years and that the market could be worth more than $10 billion annually.
Other companies, including global giants Sanofi and Johnson & Johnson, are also working on advancing flu vaccine technology. Biotechs FluGen and Vaccitech also have universal flu programs. Seqirus formed in 2015 when its parent company purchased Novartis' flu vaccine offerings and combined them with bioCSL. The company is the world's second-biggest flu vaccine manufacturer by sales, trailing France's Sanofi.
UIVI isn't the world's only universal flu vaccine public-private partnership. In Europe, the Unisec Consortium has brought 11 partners from academia, industry and more to focus on advancing promising candidates.
Despite advances in the field, FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb said earlier this year that a universal flu vaccine shot is still years away from the market.