Researchers at Oxford University recently completed Phase I clinical trials of a novel 'universal' influenza vaccine. This new vaccine is a Modified Vaccinia virus Ankara (MVA) vector encoding nucleoprotein and matrix protein 1 (MVA−NP+M1) for Influenza A. These structural, and highly conserved regions of the virus were targeted because of their presence in all strains of Influenza A. The researchers found that in their small sample size the human subjects experienced a large increase in CD8+ immunogenicity to Influenza A after being given the vaccine compared to previous levels and the levels in the control group. The vaccine was also found to be generally safe and caused few minor side effects. The researchers plan to continue testing on the vaccine in order to find the optimum dosage and to measure the actual effect of the vaccine on a larger sample size.
This research is extremely important because the current system of influenza A vaccination is expensive and requires much 'guesswork.' Current manufacturers of the Influenza A vaccine must create a new vaccine each year based on the specific strain of the virus in circulation. The vaccine usually takes 4 months to make and as a result, the vaccine must be created far in advance of the flu season. Oftentimes it is hard to predict exactly which strain is going to appear the strongest and so scientists must make educated guesses about which strain to create a vaccine against. The 'universal' vaccine, however, would eliminate the need to create yearly vaccines and would respond to all of the Influenza A strains, decreasing the cost and need for guesswork that currently exists.