The roadmap offers a powerful opportunity to leverage revolutionary advances in vaccine science and technology to better protect against influenza, a disease that could cause a pandemic even worse than COVID-19
The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota today released a roadmap for influenza vaccine research and development (R&D) to accelerate vaccine development improved seasonal influenza and the generation of broadly protective or universal influenza vaccines that could mitigate the impact of future influenza pandemics.
The IVR, produced by an international team of experts, provides a focused action plan that will enable the global influenza community to apply lessons learned from the development of the COVID-19 vaccine as a springboard to launch a new era for influenza vaccine R&D.
A review article on IVR, “A Research and Development (R&D) Roadmap for Influenza Vaccines: Looking Toward the Future”, by Kristine A. Moore, MD, MPH, et al, medical director of CIDRAP, (DOI: 10.1016 / j. vaccine.2021.08.010) will be published in the journal Vaccine by Elsevier. Copies of this article are available on request for accredited journalists; please contact the Elsevier press room at [email protected] or +31 20 485 2719.
The threats of seasonal and pandemic influenza persist in a world still grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic. As another highly contagious respiratory virus, influenza causes a spectrum of illnesses ranging from mild to fatal. Globally, influenza kills up to 650,000 people each year and causes serious illness in some 5 million people. Besides causing breathing problems, the flu can also dramatically increase your chances of having a heart attack or stroke.
New influenza strains also emerge periodically to cause devastating pandemics. According to some models, nearly 33 million people could be killed in the first 6 months of a severe influenza pandemic.
“Before COVID-19, influenza pandemics were the number one biohazard for humans, and that has not changed,” said Michael Osterholm, PhD, MPH, Director of CIDRAP and Professor Regents at the University of Minnesota, McKnight Presidential Endowed Chair in Public Health. “With at least four influenza pandemics over the past century, we know the risk is very real. It’s not if, but when, the next one will take place; therefore, we need to anticipate this risk instead of constantly catching up. “
Over the past 2 years, CIDRAP has coordinated the development of IVR in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Global Funders Consortium for Universal Influenza Vaccine Development (housed within the Task Force for Global Health), the Sabin Vaccine Institute, the World Health Organization, and the Wellcome Trust. This effort, funded by Wellcome, also involved a significant contribution from an expert working group and the engagement of over 100 stakeholder organizations in 29 countries around the world through in-depth discussions, at the reviewing documents and seeking consensus.
The impetus to develop IVR came from the Global Funders Consortium for Universal Influenza Vaccine Development. The consortium’s deliberations revealed that funding was not the only problem: a lack of coordination among various vaccine research efforts had become a significant hurdle in overcoming barriers to influenza vaccine innovation. Consortium leaders concluded that global influenza preparedness required a vaccine R&D roadmap that would provide a clear vision for organizing existing efforts and attracting new partners.
Vaccines are essential to protect populations against seasonal and pandemic influenza, but current influenza vaccines and immunization programs are insufficient. Current vaccines are based on obsolete and tedious technology, developed in the 1940s, which involves growing vaccine strains in chicken eggs. This requires predicting the dominant influenza strains to be included in the vaccine well in advance, and the vaccine’s effectiveness is compromised if these predictions are not targeted.
“The rapid development of safe and effective influenza vaccines is essential to fight influenza, especially given the need for a rapid response to pandemic strains,” said Osterholm. “Every year, seasonal flu shots prevent many deaths and limit the severity of illness in those infected. But current influenza vaccines are nowhere near as effective as they should be, with overall effectiveness ranging from 10% to 60%.
According to the developers of the IVR, although significant gaps remain in the knowledge of influenza viruses and immune responses, vaccines can be much more effective and production processes much faster. However, to achieve this requires embracing a new level of political commitment, partnerships and investments, the same combination that has accelerated the development of COVID-19 vaccines.
Aimed at scientific and clinical researchers, funders, public health decision makers, industry scientists and business leaders, regulators and communication / advocacy specialists, the IVR addresses the important obstacles and opportunities for influenza prevention and outlines a 10-year plan to build on key lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic and reduce the threat of influenza globally through two important goals:
• Improve the production and efficacy of strain-specific seasonal influenza vaccines
• Advance the development, licensing and manufacture of durable, broadly protective or universal influenza vaccines.
The IVR is organized around six key areas of R&D, each of which contains general objectives and specific technical milestones to measure progress:
• Virology applicable to vaccine development
• Immunology and immune correlates of protection
• Vaccination for seasonal influenza vaccines
• Vaccinology for widely protective or universal influenza vaccines
• Animal models and model of infection controlled by human influenza virus
• Policy, financing and regulation
“We had keen interest and participation in the development of this influenza research community roadmap, which demonstrates the importance of this effort to accelerate the improvement of influenza vaccines,” Osterholm added.
“Vaccination is one of the most effective tools we have for protecting ourselves against infectious diseases and saving lives around the world,” said Charlie Weller, PhD, head of vaccines at the Wellcome Trust. “With recent scientific advances in COVID-19 vaccine research and development, we are now on the brink of a new era in vaccine development.
“We must now seize this opportunity to develop new or improved vaccines that tackle existing health threats such as influenza. The influenza vaccine roadmap is a critical step on this path and will leverage modern science and technology against this dangerous and disruptive virus. “
Notes to Editors
About the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy
CIDRAP is a world leader in public health preparedness and response to emerging infectious diseases. CIDRAP’s past research on influenza vaccine R&D includes the Comprehensive Influenza Vaccine Initiative, which resulted in a report in 2012. Founded in 2001, CIDRAP is part of the Office of the Vice President, Research of the Institute. ‘University of Minnesota.
London-based Wellcome supports science to solve pressing health issues facing everyone, including breakthrough research into life, health and wellness, and tackles three health challenges global: mental health, climate change and infectious diseases.