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SLU Studies Universal Flu Vaccine

Saint Louis University is among four federally-funded vaccine research centers studying an investigational universal influenza vaccine intended to protect against multiple strains of the virus.

The trial is sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health. It tests an experimental vaccine for safety and its ability to produce potentially broad protective immune responses, both on its own and when followed by a standard, licensed seasonal influenza vaccine.

Dr. Sharon Frey looks through a microscope.

Sharon Frey, M.D., is an infectious diseases researcher at SLU’s Center for Vaccine Development who studies influenza. SLU file photo

Saint Louis University’s Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Unit (VTEU) is providing laboratory support for this phase 2 clinical trial. Three other VTEUs -- Baylor College of Medicine; the University of Iowa in Iowa City; and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center – are recruiting up to 120 healthy volunteers for participation in the trial. The trial will test the M-001 vaccine candidate, developed and produced by BiondVax Pharmaceuticals.

Influenza viruses mutate constantly, resulting in the emergence of viruses that may not always match those targeted by seasonal and pre-pandemic influenza vaccines. Seasonal influenza vaccines are made anew each year to match the strains predicted to circulate in the upcoming season. To receive the best protection against influenza, people must be vaccinated annually.

However, if a particular influenza strain changes in an unanticipated way, or a different strain from that included in the vaccine spreads widely, the seasonal influenza vaccine may not be sufficiently protective. Each year, seasonal influenza sickens millions in the United States and results in 140,000 to 710,000 hospitalizations and between 12,000 and 56,000 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Influenza pandemics occur when a novel influenza strain for which people have little to no protection begins to spread among humans and presents a greater public health threat than seasonal influenza. For example, the 1918 influenza pandemic killed at least 50 million people worldwide. An ideal universal influenza vaccine would provide durable protection for all age groups against multiple influenza strains, including those that might cause a pandemic. 

SLU is one of nine Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Units selected in 2013 by NIAID to study vaccines and treatments of the future that will protect people from infectious diseases and emerging threats. The project is funded under Contract No. HHSN272201300021I. The federal government has funded vaccine research at SLU since 1989. To learn more about the vaccine research being conducted at Saint Louis University, visit vaccine.slu.edu.