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New flu vaccine shows promise

8th January 2008

A universal influenza vaccine which could offer lifelong protection against all forms of type 'A' flu, including bird flu, has shown promising results in clinical trials.

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A Phase 1 clinical trial and a pre-clinical challenge study of ACA-FLU-A showed the vaccine to be safe in humans, and that it is able to generate an immune response, developers Acambis said in a statement.

The randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial was carried out on 79 subjects across the United States, and showed that ACAM-FLU-A is well tolerated and immunogenic. The best results were seen in a group vaccinated with the vaccine and an immune stimulant called QS-21.

At the same time, Acambis ran a trial to see if the vaccine would offer any protection against H5N1 avian influenza, which experts fear could soon mutate into the next pandemic influenza strain, as distinct from seasonal flu.

Previous studies have shown the vaccine to offer 70% protection against a lethal strain of H5N1 virus which emerged in Vietnam in 2004.

Acambis' vaccine works by targeting an area of the type 'A' influenza viruses which is common to all mutations, known as M2e. This means it is effective against all viruses of that type, regardless of annual, seasonal mutations.

Current season flu vaccines must be prepared annually after new mutations emerge.

Michael Watson, Acambis' Executive Vice President, Research & Development, said the new results showed that the new vaccine can generate a robust M2e antibody response and that M2e-based vaccines can protect against H5N1 avian influenza.

The WHO estimates that seasonal influenza causes between 250,000 and 500,000 deaths every year around the world.

Governments are also stockpiling pandemic influenza vaccines, primarily targeting avian H5N1 viruses, for emergency use. However, no-one is sure whether further mutations of bird flu will render them useless.

Experts believe the next pandemic could cause disease in two billion people, and kill millions globally.

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