RESEARCHERS at The Pirbright Institute in the U.K. -- which receives strategic funding from Britain's Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council, in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Oxford, working together as the Jenner Institute -- have taken an important step toward a universal vaccine against avian influenza.
Dr. Colin Butter, who led the research at Pirbright, said, "Traditional avian flu vaccines are only effective against one particular type of flu, but we want to be able to protect birds and, ultimately, people against different subtypes using just one vaccine. This research suggests that, in principle, a universal vaccine is possible."
Avian influenza is a significant health and welfare issue in the poultry industry, and avian strains can evolve to infect people. The development of a universal vaccine for poultry could help strategies -- also being pioneered by the Jenner Institute -- to prevent seasonal flu or control any future pandemic in people, the announcement said.
The team used a vaccine based on proteins from within a human flu virus, which was effective to initiate an immune response in chickens that would, in theory, protect against multiple strains of flu. It also reduced the extent to which birds shed live infectious virus that could further an outbreak of disease.
"We've found that by using proteins that are very similar in all flu viruses and delivering them packaged inside another harmless virus, we can safely vaccinate into eggs while the chick is still developing and then give a booster injection after hatch," Butter said. "This seems to be effective in priming the chicken's immune system against a bird flu virus only distantly related to the human virus whose genes we used to make the vaccine."
The next stage of work will be to investigate how effective this strategy can be in preventing the spread of virus in birds. If it works well, it could play an important role in protecting both birds and people from the scourge of a disease that is still a killer in both populations.
The research will be published soon in the journal Vaccine.