Hamilton researchers may have figured out how to beat the flu

Hamilton researchers are set to begin clinical trials on what they believe is a universal flu vaccine to prevent an influenza pandemic .

Researcher says vaccine would only need to be given once, rather than year-to-year

A one-time universal flu vaccine is entering clinical trials. McMaster University assistant professor Matthew Miller says the antibody attaches to a part of the virus that is immune to mutations, making it potent against all forms of influenza A. (Toby Talbot/AP)

Hamilton researchers are set to begin clinical trials on what they believe is a universal one-time flu vaccine to prevent against all strains of the virus. 

Researchers at McMaster University and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, say their new vaccine uses a new class of antibodies already in the body, that attach to a part of the influenza virus that doesn't mutate during pandemics. Because of this, says Matthew Miller, an assistant professor in McMaster’s department of biochemistry and biomedical sciences, the vaccine works on all strains of influenza A and could be a universal vaccine. 

If clinical trials go well, Miller said the vaccine that would only need to be given once, rather than year-to-year, and could be ready in five to seven years. 

"It would be the standard of care for flu prevention globally," Miller said. 

Currently, the flu vaccine targets specific mutations of the flu virus, normally containing antibodies to fight against two or three strains of influenza A, the strongest for of the flu which mutates faster than any other strain of flu and can exist in humans, pigs and birds. 

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Influenza B is found more in children and not the cause of pandemics the way influenza A is. There also is a more mild flu, known as influenza C. 

Miller said in 2009, the H1N1 flu pandemic was an example of a mutating flu disease. The disease killed approximately 18,449 people globally, according to the World Health Organization. 

More recently, this year's flu breakout has been resistant to people who received a flu shot because the flu virus mutated as the vaccine was being rolled out. 

McMaster University assistant professor Matthew Miller. (McMaster University)

Miller said their vaccine, which is a broad spectrum antibody found in the lung which attaches to the virus at a site "intolerant" to mutations, would work on all types of influenza A strains, regardless of mutations. 

"There's just no time to change the strain (on this year's vaccine)," Miller said, adding their one-time universal vaccine would "take out the guess work" and eliminate the risk of a "super-flu."

"It seems like we have the right antibodies in the right place," Miller said.

"Unlike seasonal vaccines, which must be given annually, this type of vaccine would only be given once, and would have the ability to protect against all strains of flu, even when the virus mutates."