Israel Radio reported Sunday morning that an Israeli company had developed a universal vaccine for all forms of flu – including bird and swine flu – and shares of Rehovot-based BiondVax trading on the Tel Aviv stock exchange went through the roof. But the ardor of investors was tempered somewhat when the company announced that it had not yet tested its vaccine on swine flu, nor had it conducted tests on pregnant women – one of the groups that is most susceptible to the disease, and for which developing a vaccine has been more difficult.
The story on Israel Radio came in the wake of a declaration of a state of emergency in the U.S. by President Barack Obama, following the 1,000th swine flu death there.
Nevertheless, the company says its universal multi-season/multi-strain flu vaccine will greatly enhance the average person's immune system, enabling patients to receive a single shot once every few years that will protect them against most forms of influenza. It turns out that most strains of flu have characteristics similar enough to enable development of one vaccine that contains the elements of the flu virus' downfall.
According to the company, the "conserved epitopes" that are common to most flu strains can activate the human immune system effectively against currently known flu strains, as well as provide protection against future mutations. Unlike the Israel Radio report, which claimed that patients would be protected for life with a single dose, the company says that a new vaccination would probably be needed every three to five years. However, the vaccine would be all-encompassing, able to defend against all common – and most likely many uncommon – strains of flu, unlike the current situation, where vaccines are developed for individual strains and must be renewed annually. This very well may include the two current strains responsible for world pandemics, bird and swine flu, but the company is not ready to commit to claiming that until more tests are conducted, a company spokesperson said.
BiondVax's work is based on research that has taken place at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot for over ten years, mostly on mice. The company conducted some tests on humans, and says that research shows that the vaccine is safe for people in the 18-49 age group. Official results will be published in the coming weeks. More tests are scheduled for the coming year in older patients.