Vial of flu vaccine and syringesNorwegian-based Bionor Pharma is working on a flu vaccine that will work differently than the standard vaccine and could fight off many strains for a long time, eliminating the need for a yearly jab.

Most vaccines involve injecting the modified or killed form of the virus in hopes that when we are exposed to the complete and functional virus, memory cells will quickly make antibodies and destroy it before it can infect cells. What Bionor is developing is a vaccine that tells our immune system to destroy cells that have become infected. The idea is to prevent the virus from spreading by using the cells’ machinery to replicate.

One might wonder why a vaccine that allows the virus to infect cells is better than one that allows antibodies to attack the virus before that and this is where the ability of the vaccine to work against a lot of strains comes in. Science Daily explains that when a cell becomes infected with a virus, the virus has tiny protein fragments called peptides which are expressed on the surface of the cells so the immune system is alerted to come and destroy it. Peptides are sequences of amino acids, the basic building blocks of life and many of the different influenza strains have similar peptide sequences. The idea is that vaccine could train the immune system to target these peptides, offering people a basic immunity that may be protective in a new and possibly more contagious and deadly virus arose that could lead to a pandemic.

This would provide a flu vaccine that leads to long term immunity instead of having to get a new vaccine every year based on what strain is predicted to predominate during flu season. The idea of a flu vaccine that works by killing infected cells came about when researchers were trying to determine how to develop a vaccine against HIV, which is similar to influenza in that it mutates at a very high rate. Researchers still have a long way to go in terms of animal and human studies and approval before it gets to market but they are hopeful they can develop new and better way to protect people against influenza and other viruses.

Image courtesy of Daniel Paquet

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