With cold and flu season fast approaching, an article in Nature Communication published online last week caught my eye (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-018-06228-8.pdf). Researchers from Oxford University’s zoology department have identified an epitope of limited variability called “OREO”, which could offer a pathway for the creation of a universal flu vaccine.
Currently, the flu vaccine targets highly variable epitopes and the decision of which epitopes to target must be made 6 months prior to the start of flu season.
The OREO epitope was identified using a mathematical model of the evolution of the influenza virus and confirmed to have low variability in pre-clinical experiments. The OREO epitope has cycled between five conformations over the last 80 years and changes roughly every 10 years. Theoretically, all conformations of the epitope could be covered by a single vaccine, or five individual vaccines could be developed and deployed based on the circulating conformation of OREO.
This is certainly an exciting prospect for the future. In the meantime, get your flu shots this season everyone!