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Researchers Step Up Efforts to Develop a 'Universal' Flu Vaccine (npr.org)
95 points by js2 8 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 28 comments

Just as interesting, in hindsight, is the sidebar link: "Why The World Cares More About The New Coronavirus Than The Flu" -- February 3, 2020:

> By contrast [with the flu], this new coronavirus has only just started circulating in humans. "We basically have the opportunity to prevent spread of a new respiratory disease in the first place," says Althaus.

Do we though? How? It has already spread as far as I can tell. Maybe back in early Februrary it seemed more containable, not anymore though.

The reason I care more about ncov is it's about to overwhelm our hospitals far past capacity and even without that has what seems to be a _much_ higher fatality rate than the flu.

The confirmed case graphs have a lag time of a week or two, because you can only get a test after you start showing symptoms, and they take a long time to run.

We also don't know what the graphs would have looked like if we didn't enact social distancing -- even if the graph is not flattening right away, it doesn't mean that we should give up. For all we know, the graph could be way worse without these measures (assuming a hypothetical world where we have perfect knowledge and have enough PPE and swabs and machines to test every person who suspects they have COVID-19, which the US currently doesn't).

Please don't give up!

There are two ways to fight back. First, drugs could attack the virus’s own proteins, preventing them from doing jobs like entering the cell or copying their genetic material once they are inside. This is how remdesivir – a drug currently in clinical trials for COVID-19 – works.

A problem with this approach is that viruses mutate and change over time. In the future, the coronavirus could evolve in ways that render a drug like remdesivir useless. This arms race between drugs and viruses is why you need a new flu shot every year.

Alternatively, a drug can work by blocking a viral protein from interacting with a human protein it needs. This approach – essentially protecting the host machinery – has a big advantage over disabling the virus itself, because the human cell doesn’t change as fast. Once you find a good drug, it should keep working. This is the approach that our team is taking. And it may also work against other emergent viruses.


I’d imagine a lot of these type of projects could get way more funding and interest now.

Netflix show “Pandemic” has featured Jake Glanville who says he has a working universal flu vaccine. However it takes 7 injections over a few months. His work is now trying to get it down to 1. I think at-risk patients and “important people” (POTUS for example) would consider taking all 7 injections if it meant never having the flu ever again.

I'm not at risk nor particularly important, but 7 shots over a few months seem like a great deal, and a step up from the yearly flu shot. Am I missing something?

My guess is the issue is compliance with the injection schedule. During my HEP A/B three part vaccine, the doctor fought me about starting the series from the first shot as "did not need it based on job and lifestyle", on the second shot my insurance declined paying for it because whatever reason they pulled out of their backside.

Compare to my aunt, she got the first shot but not the second and third because she does not see the point. No amount of urging by family has changed her mind.

If the 7 part shot was available now, I would get it and finish it. Not everybody would because humans be oddballs.

7 injections once, no yearly flu shots and no flu? Seems like a good trade, IMO - pays off in 7 years or less.

I also felt his push for 1 shot was aiming unnecessarily too high. I suspect his motivation isn’t so much that in developed countries multiple shots is impossible, but more for use worldwide in less developed health systems. He obviously wants a wide uptake.

We have plenty of vaccines which require multiple shots. If he just halved it to 3-4 shots I think it would be a huge win for the world. Move from there to the idea of 1 shot.

The reason I understand why there hasn't been a 'Universal vaccine' for common cold is because there are more than 200 strains of Rhinovirus causing it.

My worry is, COVID-19 causing SARS-CoV2 shouldn't become another Rhinovirus due to mutations from the large spread. There was a paper form China telling there has already been at-least one mutation in Wuhan; but the accuracy of that research is disputed due to small sample size.

Edit: Mixed Flu with common cold, corrected.

There is already a large amount of mutations of SARS-Cov-2: https://nextstrain.org/ncov

Most of them are irrelevant noise but some likely alter behaviour.

The influenza virus is more inviting to evolution due to having multiple nucleoproteins. If multiple strains of influenza manage to infect the same cell, the virions produced will contain a mixture of the nucleoproteins. The process is called reassortment.

Corona on the other hand has only one conneted RNA strand.

This is only what I gathered from the internet, not an expert on this.

I'd like hear an expert speaking on evolution and how that might effect immunity and the behavior of the virus.

So far I've only read [1] that wrote about Nextstrain. While he clearly did his homework with a group of people, you can read in the comments that experts think his conclusions about the mutating genome are a bit too strong. Too strong as in: it could be the case but you can't state that it is the case.

[1] https://medium.com/@tomaspueyo/coronavirus-the-hammer-and-th...

Thank you for that resource.

You have some misunderstandings here. Flu and common cold are two different things.

Flu is caused by Influenza viruses. Common cold is caused by a grab bag of viruses, some - but not all, of which are rhinoviruses. There are in fact already coronaviruses that cause common cold.

Yes, it's a coronavirus that has learned not to kill its host - probably when it first crossed over to humans a lot of people died (at a time when people didn't move around much) but evolutionary pressure changed it to survive better by not letting its hosts carry it further

There are 4 of them actually. HCoV-OC43, HCoV-HKU1, HCoV-NL63 and HCoV-229E.

Thanks, I mixed Flu with Common cold. I've corrected it.

> but the accuracy of that research is disputed due to small sample size

if we can't detect mutation, can we really tell other coronavirus from SARS-CoV2?

The PCR test we're using was specifically designed to distinguish the new Corona virus from the garden variety.

IIRC, viruses constantly mutates. Just that most of the mutation are irrelevant to us.

Scientists already have a precise knowledge of what the human body is made of, is it possible to develop a shot which basically annhilates anything in the body which is not supposed to be there? I mean instead of developing a vaccine which kills xyz vareity of microbes it will destroy everything which is not in human genetics.

Not being any sort of competent in any sort of field related to this:

From my understanding, most of what's inside our bodies isn't part of our genetics. For example there's lots and lots of bacteria, microbes, whatever that constitutes the fauna of the digestive system, it's not produced by the body but is essential to its functioning.

Once again, I don't really know what I'm talking about

> Scientists already have a precise knowledge of what the human body is made of

We don’t even know the mechanism of action of many commonly prescribed drugs with certainty. We can’t cure rheumatoid arthritis or many other autoimmune diseases. Humanity is far indeed from from a universal vaccine.

Lots of science fiction has that. Some are even plausible. However our current technology isn't that advanced. Maybe we will get there someday maybe not.

2 problems:

Scientists don't have that precise knowledge of what the human body is made of. There is a whole microbriome of non human organisms that are vital to our health.

2) Even if we did, it would still be a major accomplishment to find something that kills everything else but not us. We are happy when we find a treatment that kills 1 bad thing without killing us.

3) The only mechanism we have for artificial immunity is vaccines. These do not kill anything; they just train our immune system. Given how our immune system works, this limits us to a blacklist approach, of training it to attack specific proteins.

Educate people for a universal discipline.

Prevention is better than cure, prevent infections by preventing unhealthy lifestyle.

If we have prevention and cure at the same time, people is going to be reckless. Enforce prevention methods as first step.

You can't prevent transmission of colds or the flu while living a healthy, normal life.

20 students breathing together in a classroom are going to pass something on no matter what.

Short of living under eternal quarantine, there's no "healthy lifestyle" that prevents.

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