British scientists have discovered a flu “super antibody” that reportedly has the potential to fight all types of the influenza A virus and could be a turning point in developing a universal flu vaccine.
According to the study published in the Science journal, researchers discovered an antibody, called F16, which was able to attack all 16 subtypes of the influenza A virus – a feat that vaccine makers, who are constantly changing their flu treatments in order to keep up with the different strains of flu viruses, had previously never been able to accomplish.
“As the first and only antibody which targets all known subtypes of the influenza A virus, FI6 represents an important new treatment option and we look forward to taking it through to the next stage of development,” Swiss researcher Professor Antonio Lanzavecchia explained.
While existing vaccines target proteins inside the virus, a process that eventually causes it to mutate, the goal of this new treatment is to attack the parts of the viral coat that don’t change. If possible, it could essentially eliminate the need for new vaccines every year.
Although the landmark discovery could bode well for future flu research it doesn’t necessarily mean that there will be universal vaccine any time soon.
While Francis Collins, chief of the National Institutes of Health, feels there could be a universal flu treatment in as little as five years, other researchers, such the University of Michigan’s Arnold Monto, are a little more understated in their predictions.
“A universal flu vaccine is not a question of whether, but when. [However] I think five years is a bit ambitious, given where we are now.”