Flu’s Achilles Heel

March 13th, 2009 | Sources: Boston Globe, MedPageToday, Nature

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Scientists at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the CDC have produced monoclonal antibodies that can destroy most strains of flu virus, a new line of attack that promises to overcome the virus’ maddening ability to mutate and thus fool today’s vaccines.

offwithit'sheadSuch antibodies “could provide broad protection against all seasonal and pandemic influenza A viruses,” according to Wayne Marasco of Harvard Medical School and colleagues.

The potion targets the flu virus near its base, a region that turns out to be genetically stable.

The base mediates viral entry into cells, Marasco’s team wrote in Nature Structural & Molecular Biology.

Today’s vaccines stimulate antibody production against the viral head, a region that demonstrates extraordinary genetic polymorphism. That’s why flu vaccines are useless after one year at best and queueing-up for a jab has become an annual ritual for millions.

Coauthor Ruben Donis of the CDC is confident his group has flu by the short hairs, pointing out to MedpageToday that “By mutating (at the base, the flu virus) commits suicide.” 

The monoclonal antibodies appear to work against multiple strains of flu, including H5N1 avian flu and the H1N1 Spanish flu strain that killed 50 million people in 1918.

They also were shown to prevent flu symptoms in animals even when given 24 hours after exposure to flu virus, so long as they’re given in higher but “achievable” doses, according to the scientists.

The next step is to see whether the antibodies work in ferrets, which strangely enough have immunologic responses to flu virus more like humans than any other species.

Clinical trials could begin in 2 years.
The Dana-Farber holds patents on the discovery of the static region and the monoclonal antibodies against it.


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