New boost to universal flu vaccine development

A new research agreement has been made between the University of Oxford and Blue Water Vaccines Inc. to extend its research into a new universal vaccine known as BWV-101.

The partnership agrees to further fund research undertaken by biologists such as Sunetra Gupta at the University of Oxford, whose vital theoretical work has allowed us to identify new vaccine candidates.

A particular focus of this partnership is on influenza which, according to the World Health Organization, results in more than 1 billion infections each year, 3 – 5 million of which are considered severe, leading to between 290,000 – 650,000 related respiratory deaths worldwide.

Current influenza vaccines have several shortcomings, such as a new vaccine needing to be  reformulated every year (6 months prior to influenza season). This leads to yearly administration and typically provides protection to only 50% of the individuals that receive the vaccine. It is also highly costly to reformulate and redistribute new vaccines each year.

As a result, there is high demand for a ‘universal’ influenza vaccine, that needs to be administered only once to a person, rather than every year

Department of Biology’s Sunetra Gupta has spent 30 consolidating a body of theoretical work on the evolution of pathogen diversity, collectively known as Strain Theory.

Through collaborations with experimental biologists, she was able to validate this theory and is now at the stage where it can be applied to identifying novel vaccine candidates in important human diseases for which we still lack reliable vaccines. Through the new partnership with Blue Water Vaccines, this approach has now been applied to common influenza subtype H1.

Professor Sunetra Gupta says:

This work presents, a unique example of where a mathematical model of the evolutionary dynamics of an infectious disease has led to the experimental identification of a novel vaccine target. I look forward to seeing how this new industry-academic partnership helps to develop a much-needed universal vaccine for such a common disease like influenza

Joseph Hernandez, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Blue Water Vaccines says: 

In addition to the original work on H1 epitopes of limited variability, the team at Oxford recently found epitopes of limited variability for H3 and influenza B. This work brings us one step closer to a truly universal influenza vaccine, and we look forward to reaching that milestone with our partners at Oxford.