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Weizmann in Focus, Episode 3: One-Shot Flu Prevention

October 21, 2019


Hi, I’m Dave Doneson. Thanks for tuning in to our third episode
of Weizmann in Focus. This winter, in addition to historically low
temperatures in various parts of the country, we’ve also experienced another devastating
flu season. According to the CDC, up to 7.3 million Americans
have been sick with the flu since October … and as many as 83,500 people have been
hospitalized. Thanks to legendary Weizmann Professor Ruth
Arnon, a universal flu vaccine is on the horizon. Professor Arnon is a drug-development superstar
at the Institute, known for her pioneering work that led to the frontline multiple sclerosis
treatment, Copaxone. The first Israeli drug approved by the FDA,
Copaxone has helped MS patients around the world and contributed significantly to Israel’s
economy. This trailblazing scientist has now set her
sights on a vaccine that can target all varieties of the flu virus. This has long been a dream of scientists and
patients alike. Each year, scientists have to predict the
strains they suspect will hit during flu season so that they can prepare vaccines in advance. They’re accurate much of the time. However, in some seasons, the vaccine is most
effective against only a few varieties, and it’s the non-targeted viruses that take
a heavy toll. A universal vaccine would change all this,
but developing one is a tremendous challenge … given that viruses evolve and mutate at
an incredible rate. Professor Arnon knew that some areas of the
influenza virus change, while others do not. She figured that if the non-changing areas
appeared in many flu types, targeting them could be widely effective. Her assumptions were right! Discovering hidden peptides—short chains
of amino acids—that remained unvaried across viral strains, she developed a vaccine that
could potentially protect people against all possible flus … rather than attacking the
virus on a strain-by-strain, season-by-season case. This vaccine is also highly flexible, so if
it doesn’t work against a particular strain in a given year, it can be quickly modified. While it’s not yet available to the public,
we have reason to be optimistic. The vaccine—being brought to market by Israeli
pharmaceutical company BiondVax—has been granted patent approval in more than 30 countries,
including the U.S., the E.U., China, Mexico, and India. Late-stage clinical trials are ongoing, and
hopefully, FDA approval will come next. Imagine … In the not-too-distant future,
it may be possible to go to your local pharmacy or doctor’s office and protect yourself
from the flu for many years—in a single shot—all because of basic scientific research
at the Weizmann Institute. In our next episode of Weizmann in Focus,
we’ll talk about another area of Weizmann research that has a direct impact on the health
of people all over the globe. Until then, please send your topic suggestions
to [email protected]; we’d love to hear from you. Thanks for watching!

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