Acambis hopes to build a flu vaccine that lasts

first_imgAug 25, 2005 (CIDRAP News) – The British biotechnology firm Acambis recently announced its launching of a quest for the Holy Grail of influenza prevention: a vaccine that would protect people from the virus for many years and perhaps even stave off future pandemic strains.With current technology, flu vaccines have to be retooled every year in a time-consuming effort to cope with minor mutations that enable the flu virus to avoid quick detection by the immune system. But a vaccine based on parts of the virus that stay the same, instead of those that often change, could eliminate the need to bring out a new model every year.Acambis announced early this month that it was collaborating with Belgium’s Flanders Interuniversity Institute for Biotechnology (known as VIB) to replace the annual flu vaccine with a perennial one.”The aim of the research collaboration would be to generate a ‘universal’ vaccine candidate that would protect against both A and B strains of influenza and, more importantly, would not require annual changes to the formulation,” the company said in its Aug 4 announcement.The company hopes that such a vaccine could also protect people from a pandemic flu virus, which can arise from a major change, or “antigenic shift,” in viral components. With disease experts warning that the H5N1 avian flu virus could turn into a pandemic strain any day, that prospect is doubly attractive. However, availability of such a vaccine is, at best, years away—too far in the future to help combat any near-term pandemic.The frequent minor changes in flu viruses involve two of the virus’s surface proteins, hemagglutinin and neuraminidase, represented by the H and N in names like “H5N1.” Hemagglutinin and neuraminidase enable flu viruses to enter host cells and then exit them after replicating. Current vaccines target these highly mutable proteins, making it necessary to adjust the vaccines each year to match the circulating strains.Acambis’s vaccine effort focuses on a far less shifty viral protein, called M2. “A major component of the new [vaccine] candidates,” the company said, “will be M2e, the extracellular domain of the ion channel protein M2, which is specific to influenza A. Being highly conserved, M2e is intended to elicit protective immune responses against all strains of influenza A. M2e is incorporated in a unique carrier system that forms highly immunogenic virus-like particles.”Ashley Birkett, Acambis’s director of viral immunology in Cambridge, Mass., said the company is working on a separate technology for type B influenza. If the type A and B vaccines both prove effective, combining the two into one shot “would give us a truly universal vaccine,” he told CIDRAP News.The A type vaccine would potentially protect people against pandemic flu, since previous known pandemic strains were type A and future ones are expected to follow suit, Birkett said.”The advantage of this approach is that the manufacturing relative to the vaccine would be much easier,” he said. “It would be the same vaccine year after year.”Since the vaccine wouldn’t have to be changed each year, manufacturing could be continuous, instead of occurring each spring and summer after health officials pick the flu strains they think will prevail the following winter. With year-round manufacturing, people could be immunized any time of year, not just in the fall or winter, and vaccine could be stockpiled, Birkett said.Conventional production of flu vaccine involves growing whole copies of a weakened virus in chicken eggs (though several companies are working on growing flu viruses in cell culture). Acambis’s experimental vaccine is manufactured with a “recombinant bacterial fermentation technology,” in which bacteria are used to make selected viral proteins, rather than whole virus. “The bacteria can make single proteins for us,” Birkett said.With this technique, the production time for a batch of vaccine is “a matter of weeks,” as compared with about 6 months for egg-based vaccine, he said. “But the main difference is you’re going to be making the virus year-round. It really comes down to the fact that we don’t have to change the product,” he added.Acambis said its initial vaccine candidate is “in pre-clinical development” and has been tested successfully in animals. Two recent journal articles describe successful tests of various versions of the vaccine in mice.The reports, published in Virus Research and Virology, say that M2e generates only a weak immune response during flu infection and when used in a conventional vaccine. But when it is linked to an appropriate carrier, such as hepatitis B virus core (HBc) particles, it induces a strong antibody response. When various versions of the M2e-HBc combination were used with an adjuvant (a chemical that stimulates the immune system), they fully protected mice from a potentially lethal flu infection, the reports say.Work on the vaccine has already been going on for several years. Acambis said it acquired the vaccine from Apovia, a US biotechnology firm, earlier this year. Apovia started developing the vaccine in 2000, after licensing the technology from VIB, where Walter Fiers led the research on which the vaccine is based.Birkett said he couldn’t predict when the firm might launch clinical trials or how long it might take to bring the vaccine to licensing, but indications are it will be a lengthy effort.Theoretically, a perennial flu vaccine is a great concept, said Gregory Poland, MD, a vaccine expert at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.”One of the real problems we have is that each year, the vaccine is an educated guess,” Poland told CIDRAP News, referring to the problem of predicting which flu strains will predominate in a given season. “The other problem is getting large numbers of people to get a vaccine every year.”A single vaccine that would reliably fend off the shifty virus for years would eliminate both of those difficulties. “A flu vaccine that could be given once, twice, or periodically would be a grand slam,” said Poland, who is a professor of medicine in infectious diseases at the Mayo College of Medicine and directs the Mayo Vaccine Research Group and Program in Translational Immunovirology.But Poland was cautious in assessing the likelihood of success.”We need a proof of principle at this point,” he said. “There are a number of entities trying to develop a similar vaccine. I do think it’s theoretically possible. From an immunologic point of view, the key will be choosing the right antigen [viral protein] and knowing that the antigen is displayed early in the infection, so that an immune response can be generated early enough to abort the infection. My concern is if you find antigens that are displayed late in the infection, you may generate an immune response too late to do much good.”Birkett acknowledged that the experimental vaccine targets the virus later in its life cycle than conventional vaccines do. “But if you want a universal vaccine, you have to target a component that develops later in the life cycle,” he said.”It’s a totally new vaccine approach,” he said. “We’re confident, we’re hopeful, but until we do the [clinical] studies, we won’t know for sure [if the vaccine will work]. If it does work, it’ll be the Holy Grail. It could meet the need for influenza [protection] year after year.”Acambis is not the only organization pursuing a universal flu vaccine. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) is supporting efforts by several other researchers on the same problem.Andrew Pekosz of Washington University in St. Louis and David Milich of the Vaccine Research Institute in San Diego are working on a vaccine that, like Acambis’s, targets the M2 protein of the influenza A virus, according to an article on the NIAID’s influenza Web site.Because relatively few copies of the M2 protein are present on the outer coat of the virus, an M2-based vaccine made from a normal flu strain generates only a weak immune response, the article notes. Milich is addressing this problem by developing a “bulked up” M2 vaccine that contains 240 copies of the protein, which stimulates the production of more antibodies.Other researchers working on similar vaccines include Walter Gerhard at the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia and Gary Van Nest at the biotechnology company Dynavax, according to the NIAID. Gerhard’s vaccine targets the M2 protein, while Van Nest is using another viral protein, called NP.Poland predicts it will take years to bring a universal flu vaccine to market, if it can be done at all. “I wouldn’t hold my breath that we’re going to have a vaccine like this in the next couple of years,” he said. “I think proof of principle you could get in a couple of years. For licensure of a vaccine like that, the typical cycle is going to be somewhere in the 7- to 10-year horizon.” But he added that it might be possible to speed up the process, especially if the vaccine would be effective against a pandemic virus.See also:Aug 5 Flanders Interuniversity Institute for Biotechnology releasePubMed abstracts with links to full text of reports on M2e influenza vaccine:A ‘universal’ human influenza A vaccine (Virus Research 2004)Universal influenza A vaccine: optimization of M2-based constructs (Virology 2005)last_img read more

MPA approves golf, XC, field hockey, soccer; football, volleyball moved to spring

first_img Hospice volunteers help families navigate grief and find hope – September 12, 2020 Latest Posts Bio ELLSWORTH — At long last, the verdict is in.High school sports will be offered in Maine this fall after the Maine Principals’ Association received approval from state agencies on a framework for a 2020 season, though not all activities have been cleared to return. Golf, cross-country, field hockey and soccer will be offered with football and volleyball set to be moved to early 2021.The MPA made the announcement Thursday, one day after the governing body met with the Maine School Superintendents Association and the Janet Mills administration to hash out the final parameters for the fall season. The MPA informed member schools of the decision in an email that included guidelines for a return to play for all sports.The MPA had previously recommended at its Aug. 27 meeting that all sports be offered for the fall season. Yet those plans changed five days later when Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew and Department of Education Commissioner Pender Makin informed the MPA that the proposal did not meet state guidelines on the return to community sports.This is placeholder textThis is placeholder textIn a joint statement, the commissioners referred to the newly approved guidelines as a “consensus” on a safe return to high school sports. Maine School Superintendents Association Executive Director Eileen King added that the guidelines were successful in balancing the resumption of athletics with educators’ efforts to resume in-class instruction.“As an extension of our educational programming, it is important both cocurricular and extracurricular activities are offered in a manner that is safe and consistent with the DHHS-approved community sports guidelines,” King said. “These activities, if offered under these guidelines, will help to promote the safety of all participants as well as the safety of the sponsoring schools.”Golf and cross-country, the two “low-risk” activities under the state’s guidelines on community sports, have been approved on a statewide basis. Field hockey and soccer, which are designated as “moderate-risk” sports, may return on a regional basis only. Soccer teams will not participate in postseason play this fall.In lieu of traditional football, schools may offer 7-on-7 touch or flag football as well as Ironman or punt-pass-and-kick competitions. MPA Executive Director Mike Burnham said the governing body will look to offer the sport “in the late winter [or] early spring,” though concerns remain regarding potential conflicts with other sports and the feasibility of playing an outdoor sport in the state’s colder, wetter months.The decision regarding football was deeply unpopular among high school players and parents. Sandy Irish and Melissa Poland, mothers of players at Edward Little High School in Auburn, urged those from across the state to join in a protest that was held Saturday morning on Longley Bridge.Bucksport’s Alexis Wardwell chases down Washington Academy’s Siobhan Duffy during a 2019 high school girls’ soccer game at Bucksport High School. Soccer, golf, cross-country and field hockey will be offered as part of the fall 2020 season. FILE PHOTO“The state’s COVID-19 infection rate is one of the lowest in the country, yet other contact sports are being allowed to play this fall,” Irish and Poland wrote in a statement inviting others to turn out for the protest. “We won’t stop, and we can’t stop until our voices are heard and reconsiderations are made this fall to play all fall sports.”Despite nixing indoor volleyball, the MPA gave schools the clearance to play the sport outdoors if they can do so safely. Mount Desert Island Athletic Director Bunky Dow expressed optimism in the MPA’s ability to provide a workable environment for a traditional indoor season early next year.“We have three courts right now that we can use for outdoor volleyball, so we can do something there,” Dow told The Ellsworth American. “For indoor, if you put it between the winter and spring seasons, the only thing you’re really competing against is fine arts. I think that’s something that could work out, and it’s good for our volleyball program.”The MDI Regional School System and Ellsworth School Department approved fall seasons at their respective board meetings Thursday and Friday. Dow and Ellsworth Athletic Director Josh Frost had recommended prior to the MPA’s announcement that their boards adopt whatever proposal was approved by the governing body.In late August, Consolidated School District 13 (Deer Isle-Stonington) announced it would not be holding soccer this fall and instead offer only golf and cross-country. Yet the CSD 13 Board reversed that decision Monday, one day after Superintendent Christian Elkington recommended the district offer the sport at the high school level.“We will do our best to schedule 8-10 games,” Elkington said in a memo to board members. “We hope to learn from our experiences with varsity soccer and what other schools find and work through this fall to better inform how we will, potentially, handle a future winter sports season.”The administrative response to the MPA announcement was much different in Sullivan, where the Regional School Unit 24 Board of Directors voted Monday to uphold its earlier decision canceling the fall season. The 6-3 vote means Sumner Memorial High School and the district’s four K-8 schools will not take part in athletics this fall.Games and meets this season will be limited to attendances of 100 people in accordance with Governor Mills’ executive order limiting gathering sizes. Players, coaches, volunteers, officials, trainers, media members and spectators will all count toward the 100-person limit.“I think a lot of schools are still not sure what they’re going to do about fans,” Dow said. “We’d like to have them, but if we can’t, we might be looking at live-streaming the events. It’s important for those people who might not be able to be there that they still have a way to watch.”Schools in counties that have been assigned “yellow” or “red” designations under the Maine Department of Education’s guidelines on a return to classroom learning may not hold practices or games. With the exception of York County (yellow), all counties in Maine are currently designated as “green.”For teams participating in approved sports, the season is scheduled to begin with tryouts and the first practices Monday, Sept. 14. The first countable games and meets may be held as early as the following Friday, Sept. 25.Update: This story has been updated to include announcements made by local school boards and comments from local administrators. Mike MandellMike Mandell is the sports editor at The Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander. He began working for The American in August 2016. You can reach him via email at mmandell@ellsworthamerican.com.center_img Ellsworth runners compete in virtual Boston Marathon – September 16, 2020 Latest posts by Mike Mandell (see all) MPA approves golf, XC, field hockey, soccer; football, volleyball moved to spring – September 10, 2020last_img read more