Researchers use mRNA technology for potential universal flu vaccine

Penn Medicine researchers are targeting a "cornucopia of antigens" with mRNA-based technology to develop a universal flu vaccine, and human clinical trials for the 20-subtype candidate are in the works. 

The multivalent vaccine employs mRNA technology, which sped up the development and use of the first COVID-19 vaccines. The flu vaccine candidate produces copies of all 20 known influenza subtypes, and animal testing shows reductions in signs of illness and more protections from death, according to a Nov. 25 news release from the Philadelphia-based university and a study published in Science

"For a conventional vaccine, immunizing against all these subtypes would be a major challenge, but with mRNA technology it's relatively easy," Scott Hensley, PhD, a microbiology professor at Penn who led the study, said in a statement. 

In mice, the vaccine elicited high levels of antibodies against all 20 flu lineages for at least four months. 

The universal vaccine candidate would not be for immunizing or completely preventing flu, but instead prompt a memory immune response for new pandemic viral strains, according to the release. Researchers are drafting clinical trials with human participants to test if the mRNA-based flu vaccine can offer sweeping reductions in severe illness and death. 

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