Alternative to the ‘jab’ offers protection against flu

22 Jan 2019 | Back to News, Publications and Annual Reports

Flu vaccines often lag behind current developments. By the time an effective flu vaccine is available for a specific virus, a new flu virus which is not susceptible to the vaccine will already be in circulation. The problem is that it takes at least 6 months to develop a vaccine, which means the flu will always be one step ahead. Couldn't things be speeded up a bit?

Yes, by setting the body itself to work. With this thought in mind, BPRC researchers got together with Norwegian scientists to examine whether a faster method could also provide protection against the flu. And this research led to promising results.

Bypassing chicken eggs and culture systems

Let's take a step backwards to see how the current flu vaccines are produced. The process is so slow because the vaccines are made using the flu virus itself, or proteins from the flu virus. This takes place in chicken eggs or culture systems. The starting point of the new, researched method was to bypass this process and put the body itself to work. The idea is simple: get the DNA code for the vaccine into the body's cells and the body will take care of the rest.

DNA is quick and easy to produce. Unfortunately, the immune system's response to this self-produced vaccine is usually fairly weak in both humans and primates. In order to improve this response, the researchers gave the DNA vaccine an extra code. This makes it easier for the immune system to recognise proteins which are produced by the body.

Jab-free vaccine

An additional and remarkable benefit of a DNA vaccine is that it may not even involve a jab. Using a ‘jet injector’, the practitioner can inject small particles into the skin under high pressure. This is a pain-free treatment which also avoids the possibility of infections caused by the reuse of infected needles. This new DNA vaccine has been tested in rhesus monkeys using a jet injector, with no side effects. After being exposed to the flu virus, the animals still appeared to be protected against the virus.

A great result. The researchers wish to continue to develop this vaccine in order to make it effective against as many flu variants as possible. This work has been published in the Vaccine journal.