Coronaviruses and influenza viruses pose a major risk to global health, underscored by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and continuing spread of SARS-CoV-2 variants. The unpredictability of viral emergence and rapid pace of viral evolution pose an arduous challenge for vaccine development. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) are on a race to advance vaccine science to outcompete viruses with the development of “universal” vaccines, which mount protective immune responses to current and future viral strains and variants.
The Collaborative Influenza Vaccine Innovation Centers (CIVICs), funded by the NIH, aim to develop broadly protective and longer-lasting influenza vaccines against newly emerging influenza viruses and seasonal flu. A recent NIH in-depth article features CIVICs research making progress toward a universal flu vaccine using two approaches. Investigators are harnessing mRNA technology first deployed in COVID-19 vaccines to combat influenza. One approach from the University of Pennsylvania combines mRNA encoding hemagglutinin, a viral surface protein, from 20 influenza types and subtypes shows promising results in protecting animals from similar and dissimilar viral strains. Other approaches are evaluating the safety and immunogenicity of vaccines targeting the stem region of the hemagglutinin protein, which is widely shared amongst influenza viruses and more stable over time, in Phase 1 clinical trials.