An Israeli biotech startup company is developing a flu
vaccine that is expected to be effective against all flu
viruses, both present and future. It could provide an
effective answer to the widely feared avian flu threat.
The company is named BiondVax and its approach is based on
research by Prof. Ruth Arnon, who is the developer of Teva's
Copaxone drug for treating multiple sclerosis which has
proven to be a major success.
According to a report in Globes, the company has begun
trails of its products for a number of types of avian flu.
BiondVax hopes that, if avian flu develops into an epidemic,
it will be ready with a relevant vaccine of proven
To develop a vaccine against flu, the current approach is to
isolate the particular strains that are expected to be the
cause of flu in the upcoming flu season, weaken that virus,
and use the weakened strain as a vaccine that will allow
people's bodies to develop the antigens to fight it before
they are actually sick with the disease. The flu virus,
however, changes rapidly. That is why each year requires a
new virus specifically for that year's strain. Although
epidemiologists are pretty accurate at predicting which
strains will attack, their success is not guaranteed. By the
time a vaccine is produced, new and different types of flu
virus may very well appear.
BiondVax has managed to isolate significant properties that
are shared by all flu viruses. Using this knowledge, it
created a synthetic virus that attacks those properties. This
approach, it is hoped, will allow it to be effective even
against flu strains not yet in existence.
According to its current schedule, the universal vaccine will
first be available in three to five years. If there is an
epidemic of avian flu, the company will try to accelerate
The current avian flu virus can migrate from poultry to human
beings, but one person cannot infect another and therefore
there has as yet been no epidemic. The mortality rate of
those infected is very high. It is feared that this virus
will mutate into one that can also be transmitted from one
person to another, but so far this has not happened and there
is no way to know if or when this will happen.
The countries in which cases of avian flu have been reported
have been taking strong steps to try to contain the disease
among the poultry. The strong publicity and worldwide
concern, plus the dangers to their own populations, have
forced countries to take the problem very seriously. China
recently said that it had destroyed six million birds.
A vaccine designed to protect against avian flu is already on
the market, but it provides protection only against the
current strain. Although it is likely, there is still no
guarantee that the current vaccine will be effective against
the mutated avian flu epidemic. The BiondVax approach may
provide a more secure answer.
BiondVax CEO Dr. Ron Babekof told Globes that his
company is now beginning clinical trials on humans. Because
the virus is so deadly, this is not an easy task.
He said that his company has filed requests with the US
National Institutes of Health for funding for their research,
but they are proceeding even before they have heard from
them. "We want to be sure that, if they need us, we'll be
ready in time," he said.
He hopes that the US authorities will be helpful because of
the great need for his drug. "We're planning to launch the
universal vaccine in 3-5 years," he said. "If an epidemic
occurs, we'll of course redouble our efforts, and it will
happen much faster."