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Scientists identify ‘super antibody’ against influenza

28 July 2011

 

Scientists at the Medical Research Council (MRC), the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB) and Humabs BioMed in Switzerland, have found that an antibody called FI6 can combat all influenza A viruses that commonly cause disease in humans and in animals. The finding represents a turning point in the development of emergency flu treatments and in time may help to pave the way for a universal flu vaccine.

 

Dr Steve Gamblin, from the MRC National Institute for Medical Research, said: “Historically, it has been impossible to predict precisely what kind of flu could develop into an epidemic and, as such, it has been necessary to develop new vaccines each year to tackle the different viruses. Our discovery may eventually help to develop a universal vaccine.”

 

Sir John Skehel, corresponding author on the paper also at the MRC National Institute for Medical Research, added: “It is estimated that every year millions of people are infected with influenza A viruses and, although the majority of infections are mild, those in vulnerable groups, such as the very old or the very young, may be worse affected and more likely to die or be hospitalised. As we saw with the 2009 pandemic, a comparatively mild strain of influenza can place a significant burden on emergency services. Having a universal treatment which can be given in emergency circumstances would be an invaluable asset.”

 

Professor Antonio Lanzavecchia, Director of the IRB and Chief Scientific Officer of Humabs, said: “The high prevalence of seasonal influenza and the unpredictability of new pandemics highlight the need for better treatments that target all influenza viruses. As the first and only antibody which targets all known subtypes of the influenza A virus, FI6 represents an important new treatment option and we look forward to taking it through to the next stage of development.”

 

Professor Jim Smith, director of the MRC National Institute for Medical Research said: “A thorough understanding of the human immune system is critical in order to develop new treatments. The MRC has a track record of tackling infectious diseases on every front, from assessing gaps in our basic understanding of infection through to the development of new vaccines and drugs. It is research like this that demonstrates how publicly funded work can really change the treatment landscape.”

 

Findings are published in the journal Science Express.

Notes to editors

  • 1. A neutralizing antibody selected from plasma cells that binds to all Influenza A hemagglutinin subtypes is published online in Science Express.
  • 2. For almost 100 years the Medical Research Council has improved the health of people in the UK and around the world by supporting the highest quality science. The MRC invests in world-class scientists. It has produced 29 Nobel Prize winners and sustains a flourishing environment for internationally recognised research. The MRC focuses on making an impact and provides the financial muscle and scientific expertise behind medical breakthroughs, including one of the first antibiotics penicillin, the structure of DNA and the lethal link between smoking and cancer. Today MRC funded scientists tackle research into the major health challenges of the 21st century. www.mrc.ac.uk
  • 3. Humabs is a privately owned Switzerland-based company that has been discovering and developing next-generation fully human monoclonal antibody platforms. These technologies have been developed within the Institute for Research in Biomedicine led by Professor Dr Antonio Lanzavecchia. Humabs is focusing these platforms on the creation of distinct antibodies to fight infectious and inflammatory diseases for development through pharmaceutical partners.
  • 4. The Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB) is a not for profit private research institute founded in 2000 with the mission of conducting basic research on mechanisms of host defence. The institute is affiliated to the Università della Svizzera italiana (USI) and is supported by the City of Bellinzona, the Cantone Ticino, the Swiss Confederation and the Helmut Horten Foundation. www.irb.ch
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