Annually changing flu vaccines with their hit-and-miss effectiveness may soon give way to a single, near-universal flu vaccine, according to a new report from scientists at The Scripps Research Institute and the Dutch biopharmaceutical company Crucell.
They describe an antibody that, in animal tests, can prevent or cure infections with a broad variety of influenza viruses, including seasonal and potentially pandemic strains.
The finding, published in the journal Science Express on July 7, 2011, shows the influenza subtypes neutralized with the new antibody include H3N2, strains of which killed an estimated one million people in Asia in the late 1960s.
"Together this antibody and the one we reported in 2009 have the potential to protect people against most influenza viruses," said Ian Wilson, who is the Hansen Professor of Structural Biology and a member of the Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology at Scripps Research, as well as senior author of the new paper with Crucell's chief scientific officer Jaap Goudsmit.
Tackling a Major Shortcoming
Wilson's laboratory has been working with Crucell scientists since 2008 to help them overcome the major shortcoming of current influenza vaccines: They work only against the narrow set of flu strains that the vaccine makers predict will dominate in a given year, so their effectiveness is temporary. In addition, current influenza vaccines provide little or no protection against unforeseen strains.
These shortcomings reflect a basic flu-virus defense mechanism. The viruses come packaged in spherical or filamentous envelopes that are studded with mushroom-shaped hemagglutinin (HA) proteins, whose more accessible outer structures effectively serve as decoys for a normal antibody response. "The outer loops on the HA head seem to draw most of the antibodies, but in a given strain these loops can mutate to evade an antibody response within months," said Wilson. Antiviral drugs aimed at these and other viral targets also lose effectiveness as flu virus populations evolve.
"The major goal of this research has been to find and attack relatively unvarying and functionally important structures on flu viruses," said Damian Ekiert, a graduate student in the Scripps Research Kellogg School of Science and Technology who is working in the Wilson laboratory. Ekiert and Crucell's Vice President for Antibody Discovery Robert H. E. Friesen are co-first authors of the Science Express report.
By sifting through the blood of people who had been immunized with flu vaccines, Goudsmit and his colleagues several years ago discovered an antibody that bound to one such vulnerable structure. In mice, an injection of the antibody, CR6261, could prevent or cure an otherwise-lethal infection by about half of flu viruses, including H1 viruses such as H1N1, strains of which caused deadly global pandemics in 1918 and 2009.
The Crucell researchers approached Wilson, whose structural biology lab has world-class expertise at characterizing antibodies and their viral targets. Ekiert, Wilson, and their colleagues soon determined the three-dimensional molecular structure of CR6261 and its binding site on HA, as they reported in Science in 2009. That binding site, or "epitope," turned out to be on HA's lower, less-accessible stalk portion. The binding of CR6261 to that region apparently interferes with flu viruses' ability to deliver their genetic material into host cells and start a new infection. That antibody is about to begin tests in human volunteers.
The Missing Piece
Crucell researchers subsequently searched for an antibody that could neutralize some or all of the remaining flu viruses unaffected by CR6261, and recently found one, CR8020, that fits this description. As the team now reports in the Science Express paper, CR8020 powerfully neutralizes a range of human-affecting flu viruses in lab-dish tests and in mice. The affected viruses include H3 and H7, two subtypes of great concern for human health that have already caused a pandemic (H3) or sporadic human infections (H7).
As with the CR6261 project, Ekiert and colleagues were able to grow crystals of the new antibody bound to an HA protein from a deadly strain of H3N2, and to use X-ray crystallography techniques to determine the antibody's structure and its precise epitope on the viral HA protein.
"It's even lower on the HA stalk than the CR6261 epitope; in fact it's closer to the viral envelope than any other influenza antibody epitope we've ever seen," said Ekiert.
Crucell is about to begin initial clinical trials of CR6261 in human volunteers, and the company expects eventually to begin similar trials of CR8020. If those trials succeed, aside from a vaccine the two antibodies could be combined and used in a "passive immunotherapy" approach. "This would mainly be useful as a fast-acting therapy against epidemic or pandemic influenza viruses," said Wilson. "The ultimate goal is an active vaccine that elicits a robust, long-term antibody response against those vulnerable epitopes; but developing that is going to be a challenging task."
Other authors of the paper, "A Highly Conserved Neutralizing Epitope on Group 2 Influenza A Viruses," are Gira Bhabha and Wenli Yu from Scripps Research; Ted Kwaks, Mandy Jongeneelen, Carla Ophorst, Freek Cox, Hans J.W.M. Korse, Boerries Brandenburg, Ronald Vogels, Just P.J. Brakenhoff, Ronald Kompier, Martin H. Koldijk and Wouter Koudstaal of Crucell Holland BV, Leiden, the Netherlands; Lisette A.H.M. Cornelissen of the Central Veterinary Institute, Wageningen University, Lelystad, the Netherlands; and Leo L. M. Poon and Malik Peiris of the Department of Microbiology, The University of Hong Kong, Queen Mary Hospital, Hong Kong.
The research was supported by the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health; the US Department of Energy; and by Crucell Holland BV.
About The Scripps Research Institute
The Scripps Research Institute is one of the world's largest independent, non-profit biomedical research organizations. Scripps Research is internationally recognized for its discoveries in immunology, molecular and cellular biology, chemistry, neuroscience, and vaccine development, as well as for its insights into autoimmune, cardiovascular, and infectious disease. Headquartered in La Jolla, California, the institute also includes a campus in Jupiter, Florida, where scientists focus on drug discovery and technology development in addition to basic biomedical science. Scripps Research currently employs about 3,000 scientists, staff, postdoctoral fellows, and graduate students on its two campuses. The institute's graduate program, which awards Ph.D. degrees in biology and chemistry, is ranked among the top ten such programs in the nation.
Mika Ono | EurekAlert!
First time-lapse footage of cell activity during limb regeneration
25.10.2016 | eLife
Phenotype at the push of a button
25.10.2016 | Institut für Pflanzenbiochemie
Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.
This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...
Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion
Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...
Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.
"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...
In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.
A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...
By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.
"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...
14.10.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
12.10.2016 | Event News
25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences
25.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering
25.10.2016 | Process Engineering