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Universal Flu Vaccine -

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PROF. ANNE KELSO

We don't know what's going to happen. This outbreak has emerged very quickly

PROF. DOMINIC DWYER

We're seeing a new virus come into the human population which humans aren't immune.

DR ANDREW CUTHBERTSON

We're very clear that our role in this is to prepare a safe and effective vaccine as rapidly as
possible.

DR MARYANNE DEMASI

Now I'm not setting out to frighten anyone, or cause hysteria - quite the opposite in fact. I'm
going to cut through the confusion, and introduce you to some Australian immunologists, who are
working around the clock to develop a universal flu vaccine

DR MOHAMMED ALSHARIFI

I think our approach, once we get it into humans, will be the start of a new era in vaccination

PROF. ANNE KELSO

The ideal vaccine would be a universal vaccine which protects people against all influenza viruses
including those that arise in the future that we don't know about yet.

NARRATION

The problem with current flu vaccines is that they don't protect against all strains of influenza.
That's why they need to constantly update the vaccine each season.

DR ANDREW CUTHBERTSON

Seasonal flu probably kills 2 -3000 people in Australia, mainly the elderly and the very young each
year. So seasonal flu is a serious medical threat.

NARRATION

So how do they decide which flu strains we should be vaccinated against?

PROF. ANNE KELSO

The decision about what viruses should go into seasonal influenza vaccines ah is based on a
recommendation by WHO that's made twice a year in Geneva. We look at all the data and identify
strains which we believe will be most suitable for inclusion of the vaccine for the next season.

NARRATION

The Commonwealth Serum Laboratories can manufacture millions of doses of seasonal flu vaccines.
They begin by growing up the virus in hens eggs.

DR ANDREW CUTHBERTSON

It's a very traditional method. It's actually been around for probably since McFarlane Burnett did
influenza research work back many decades. We extract essentially those parts of the virus that
stimulate the immune system appropriately and remove a lot of the other components that both ensure
that the final vaccine is potent at stimulating the immune system is safe.

NARRATION

So why isn't the latest "swine flu" included in the seasonal flu vaccine?

PROF. DOMINIC DWYER

The process of making the vaccine is much more complicated, it will take some months before that's
ready.

PROF. ANNE KELSO

This is why pandemic plans, including our own in Australia put so much emphasis on delaying the
entry of a new virus into Australia.

NARRATION

Authorities are desperately trying to contain the spread of swine flu to buy time until a new
vaccine becomes available.

NARRATION

Now you've probably been hearing a lot about H1N1 - but what does it mean? The letters refer to the
molecules on the surface of the virus. The H, refers to the type of haemagglutinin molecule that
allows the virus to bind to the cells in the lung. The N, refers to the type of neuraminidase
molecule which enables the virus to continue infecting other cells. These two molecules change
constantly and make it difficult to develop a lasting vaccine.

PROF. DOMINIC DWYER

There are about three different types of influenza there's influenza A, B and C. Influenza A is the
one we worry about the most because that's the one that has it's natural host in water birds. You
have water birds, you have pigs and you have humans all in close proximity and so new strains can
appear at any sort of given time - and that's what's happened historically.

DR MARYANNE DEMASI

Viruses like Influenza A can be expelled into the air by coughing and sneezing, now everyday you
inhale thousands of these particles and normally your immune system combats them without a problem.

PROF. DOMINIC DWYER

The virus is inhaled through the nose or the mouth and then travels down the respiratory track.
It'll lodge in the nose and the back of the throat and right down into the lungs. It binds on to
one of the respiratory cells then go inside that cell and eventually 'cause that cell to die. The
dead cells are shed into the lungs and people can develop a cough trying to get rid of that dead
material and also develop pneumonia if it's really bad.

NARRATION

As the number of confirmed swine flu cases increased globally, the World Health Organisation raised
its flu alert in June to phase 6, signaling a pandemic although later, it was downgraded. And when
you consider 1.5 billion people cross international waters each year it's not difficult to see how
a virus can spread and quickly become a pandemic.

Because flu viruses mutate rapidly it makes the hunt for a universal vaccine more difficult. Its
feared swine flu will re-emerge as a more virulent strain like the Spanish Flu of 1918 which was
also an H1N1 and killed over 50 million people worldwide.

PROF. DOMINIC DWYER

We're having our first wave of swine flu activity but whether it really becomes a second wave, or a
third wave that's severe, we don't know.

NARRATION

Some experts believe, in the absence of a universal vaccine, exposure to this relatively mild form
of swine flu may actually protect you against a more virulent wave of the strain in the future. Of
concern to health authorities, the current outbreak targets a different demographic compared to
seasonal flu's.

PROF. ANNE KELSO

It seems that it's mainly younger people who are infected and affected by this new virus. That was
also true during the 1918-19 pandemic, where the most devastating effects were on the 20 to 40 year
old age group.

NARRATION

Swine flu has circulated for many years. It's known that influenza viruses have infected pigs for
most of last century.

PROF. DOMINIC DWYER

Pigs have the ability to be infected by human viruses and by bird viruses. So they act as a mixing
pot for the emergence of new strains that can then go on and infect humans.

NARRATION

Swine flu symptoms are relatively mild, unlike the bird flu outbreak of 2003. The death rate for
bird flu is about 60% compared to less than 1% for swine flu. Fortunately, bird flu never managed
to rapidly transmit from human to human. As the winter season looms, the eyes of the world are on
Australia and it has never been more important to produce a flu vaccine which gives effective
immune protection.

As part of our immune function, we have B cells which produce antibodies against a foreign virus.
Antibodies remember to destroy the virus if we become infected again. But if the virus mutates, the
antibody response isn't as effective. That's why we have a secondary response. The immune system
has Killer T cells which destroy cells that have been invaded by viruses. Unfortunately, vaccines
don't effectively activate this part of the immune system.

DR ANDREW CUTHBERTSON

The scientific dream I guess would be to not have to modify the vaccine every season however the
flu virus has evolved to modify itself and even adapt to anti-viral drugs or indeed vaccines.

NARRATION

Immunologists at John Curtin School of Medical Research hope to overcome the problem of mutating
viruses. They've taken old ideas and applied them to a fresh approach that just might create a
universal flu vaccine.

DR MARYANNE DEMASI

These researchers are developing a vaccine that will not only illicit a strong immune response but
provide blanket protection against all different types of influenza. Now if it works that will be
the holy grail of flu vaccines.

PROF. ARNO MULLBACHER

The ideal influenza vaccine would be a live virus which gives both antibody and T-cell immunity.
And of course a live virus causes disease so the best would be to have a virus which acts like a
live virus, but is dead.

DR MOHAMMED ALSHARIFI

We inactivate the virus by destroying the genome at the same time using gamma radiation.

NARRATION

They used gamma radiation which kills the virus by destroying the DNA. It robs the virus of its
ability to cause disease but it preserves the surface protein molecules so that the immune system
can still recognise it.

PROF. ARNO MULLBACHER

It's such a simple method people just shake their heads

NARRATION

Early trials of the vaccine have shown promise It was able to illicit an antibody response as well
as the all important "Killer T cell" response.

DR MOHAMMED ALSHARIFI

The outcome was far more than our expectations. We were very delightful for it and it is doing what
we want it to do.

NARRATION

The researchers have even developed a new way of delivering the vaccine that may see the end of
needle jabs.

DR MOHAMMED ALSHARIFI

The significance of inter-nasal delivery of the vaccine is induce immune response in the tissue
that is more likely to be affected by infection, which is the lung or the nostrils, because that's
where the infection is expected to happen.

NARRATION

The big question now is whether it will work in humans. This remains to be seen.

DR MARYANNE DEMASI

In the short term, the main concern now is that swine flu may somehow mutate and recombine with
another virus which is resistant to antiviral medication, that's why developing a universal vaccine
has never been more crucial.

Related Info

Influenza fact file (ABC Health & Wellbeing 08/07/04)

Flu questions answered (ABC Health & Wellbeing 21/05/09)

Do masks work? (ABC Health & Wellbeing 29/04/09)

Canada sequences swine flu virus (ABC Science 07/05/09)

How does animal flu become a human flu? (ABC Science 06/05/09)

Presentation: Influenza surveillance and pandemic preparedness

CSL Limited

Hanson Institute

Institute of Medical and Veterinary Science

The John Curtin School of Medical Research

Story Contacts

Prof. Anne Kelso

anne.kelso@influenzacentre.org

Director - WHO Collaborating Centre for Influenza

Prof. Dominic Dwyer

dominic_dwyer@wmi.usyd.edu.au

Medical Virologist - Westmead Hospital, Sydney

Dr Andrew Cuthbertson

R&D Director and Chief Scientific Officer, CSL

Prof. Arno Mullbacher

Arno.Mullbacher@anu.edu.au

Immunologist - The John Curtin School of Medical Research

The Australian National University

Dr Mohammed Alsharifi

mohammed.alsharifi@imvs.sa.gov.au

Viro-immunologist - Hanson Institute