COVID research also boosting hopes for better flu shot
PARIS — Winter is coming to the northern hemisphere, and with it, the flu season – however, advances spurred by the fight against COVID-19 are boosting hopes of finding a more reliable vaccine.
Flu jabs have long been available to fight off the seasonal virus, but their rate of effectiveness can vary from between 40 percent and 70 percent.
They work by injecting an inactivated virus strain into humans to trigger immunity. That inactivated virus must be prepared well in advance, and this can cause problems if the strains don’t match up.
But now drugmakers and laboratories are rushing to apply what has been learned about RNA jabs to the flu, motivated by the potential not only for more effective, life-saving vaccines but also the vast profits up for grabs.
RNA, or ribonucleic acid, is the lesser-known cousin of DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, the building block of genes.
Last month US pharmaceutical firm Pfizer began injecting humans with a flu vaccine that uses messenger RNA (or mRNA), which it already uses in its coronavirus vaccine.
Moderna, a US biotech company that makes a rival COVID-19 vaccine using mRNA, launched its own flu jab trials in July.
And French drugmaker Sanofi has started trials on a “monovalent” RNA vaccine – which means it targets a single strain of the virus – and will begin trials on a “quadrivalent” vaccine next year.
Immunologist Claude-Agnes Reynaud said that six months before flu season—“we assess which strains are circulating the most.”
“Sometimes we get it wrong, and this creates a significant excess of mortality,” said the director of research at France’s INSERM health and medical research institute.
“The problem with inactivating a virus to prepare a vaccine is that it can damage certain surface proteins,” she added—and it is those same proteins that trigger the immune response.
Instead of carrying these virus proteins into the body, lab-generated mRNA tells human cells to create them, so that the immune system can recognize and fight future infection.
The World Health Organization advises vaccine makers on which strain of flu they should track.
“And if it warns of a change in the prevalent strains, we will be able to change much faster with RNA” technology, said Jean-Jacques Le Fur, an analyst at Bryan, Garnier & Co. —AFP
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
The Inquirer Foundation supports our healthcare frontliners and is still accepting cash donations to be deposited at Banco de Oro (BDO) current account #007960018860 or donate through PayMaya using this link .
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.