U.S. clinical trials for more effective flu vaccine

A more effective seasonal flu vaccine developed at Flinders University is about to be tested in clinical trials across the United States.

Latest figures show that 228 people have already died from flu related complications across Australia in 2019. This includes 57 people in NSW and 48 people in Victoria before the end of June.

Nikolai Petrovsky, Flinders University Professor and Research Director of local company Vaxine Pty Ltd , says current flu vaccines do provide some protection, but his team have demonstrated a lot can be done to improve their effectiveness.

“Despite currently available vaccines, flu remains a very major global health problem,” he says.

“So far in 2019 there have been over 96 thousand confirmed cases across Australia. The number in WA nearly doubled to 10 thousand, as did the number of deaths,  there have been 57 deaths recorded in NSW, 44 in SA, and nearly 40 in Queensland.”

Professor Petrovsky developed the technology behind this vaccine using adjuvants — substances which enhances the body’s immune response to a vaccine.

The technology for this improved flu shot is also believed to be the first human drug in the world to be completely designed by artificial intelligence (AI).

“This represents the start of a new era where artificial intelligence is going to play an increasingly dominant role in drug discovery and design,” says Professor Petrovsky.

Although computers have been used in the past to help in drug design, this vaccine technology was independently designed by an AI program called SAM (Search Algorithm for Ligands), created by the Flinders-based team.

More than 96,000 Australians have contracted influenza in 2019, with 228 recorded deaths. Photo: Getty Images.

Associate Professor Dimitar Sajkov, says a number of influenza patients seen this year had received the 2019 vaccine, highlighting the need to develop a better flu shot.

“It is tremendous to see such a promising vaccine that we developed with the very first human trials being done at Flinders, progressing onto the world stage,” he says.

In 2009 the team at Flinders were the first in the world to develop a new swine flu vaccine to combat the 2009 pandemic. The Flinders trials confirmed both the effectiveness and speed with which this new vaccine could be delivered, resulting in many awards including the AMP National Innovation Award at the Telstra Business Awards.

The U.S. clinical trial will take about 12 months to complete and aims to recruit 240 healthy volunteers.

The trial is sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

Dr Petrovsky expressed gratitude to the U.S. government for providing long term funding for research that led to this breakthrough.

“It takes decades to develop a new human vaccine and this is extremely hard to achieve under Australian funding models, which tend to be short term.”

For more information on this study, please visit ClinicTrials.gov

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College of Medicine and Public Health