Theraclone makes a breakthrough on universal flu vax

Seattle-based Theraclone Sciences says that a team of scientists in its own ranks working in league with researchers from around the world have zeroed in on rare antibodies that have the ability to latch on to a piece of the flu virus that's common to a wide variety of strains. And they say that the breakthrough, which has been confirmed in mice, could eventually open the door to a universal flu vaccine, one of the Holy Grails in vaccine research.

Every year vaccine manufacturers have to plan months in advance on a vaccine that can combat a series of fast-mutating flu strains which are likely to trigger an epidemic; shooting at several moving targets, in essence, before they actually appear. But the scientists at Theraclone, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Tokyo and Johns Hopkins University discovered antibodies in healthy people that may change all of that. To find 17 antibodies that worked against flu, they had to sort through 100,000 possible candidates.

"We found a new part of the virus that nobody else has found that's highly conserved and protective," Matthew Moyle, study co-author and chief scientific officer at Theraclone, tells the Seattle Times.

"The ability of these antibodies to protect mice from highly lethal strains of influenza is encouraging," said Yoshihiro Kawaoka, professor of virology at University of Wisconsin, Madison and University of Tokyo. "Such antibodies may be especially useful during outbreaks of newly emerging, highly pathogenic influenza viruses."

Their approach worked to target common flu viruses that afflict millions of people each year, as well as the lethal bird flu strain and the H1N1 virus that triggered last year's pandemic alarm. And if the scientists can develop a vaccine that spurs the production of an army of these antibodies, they may have found a key to conquering the flu.

- check out the Theraclone release
- here's the story from the Seattle Times