The University of Oxford announced that it has signed a deal to develop a universal influenza vaccine candidate with Blue Water Vaccines, a United States-based startup. The technology developed by the university’s department of zoology has the potential to provide life-long immunity against influenza, the university said in a news release.
Influenza is responsible for roughly 500,000 deaths worldwide each year and between 3 and 5 million severe illnesses, the university noted. It is estimated to cost the United States $87.1 billion in absenteeism.
Seasonal influenza vaccines target parts of the virus that change, meaning influenza vaccines need to be updated every year. Researchers recently estimated that the vaccine for the 2017-2018 influenza season was 38% effective in the U.S.
The universal influenza vaccine candidate being developed at Oxford targets epitopes that are naturally immunogenic and limited in variability, which allows the vaccine to potentially protect against all influenza strains without having to be regularly updated, the university explained.
“About 10 years ago, we predicted that regions of the virus that were limited in variability would drive the evolution influenza. Using mathematical methods, we showed that these regions would cycle between a limited number of conformations in time, in tandem with the development of immunity within the human population,” Sunetra Gupta, PhD, professor of theoretical epidemiology at Oxford, said in a news release. “Because of their limited variability and the ease with which immunity can be built up against them, such regions make ideal vaccine targets.”
Oxford’s vaccine covers all A and B influenza strains and is approaching clinical studies, the university said. It could possibly enter a phase 1 trial before the end of 2019.
The deal gives Blue Water Vaccines the option of exclusively licensing the vaccine if it hits fundraising milestones. The startup is raising $15 million to support the development of the vaccine. – by Erin Michael
University of Oxford. Oxford University signs universal flu vaccine development deal with US startup BWV. Available at: http://www.ox.ac.uk/news/2019-02-01-oxford-university-signs-universal-flu-vaccine-development-deal-us-startup-bwv. Accessed on February 5, 2019.
Disclosure: Gupta is employed by Oxford University.