A more effective seasonal flu vaccine developed in South Australia is about to be tested in clinical trials across the US.
Dr Nikolai Petrovsky, Flinders University Professor and Research Director of local company Vaxine, says his team has demonstrated that even though flu vaccines provide some protection, a lot more can be done to improve their effectiveness.
He developed the technology behind the vaccine using adjuvant substances, which act as a turbocharger to increase infection protection.
This technology is claimed to have been designed by artificial intelligence in the form of a program called SAM (Search Algorithm for Ligands) created by the Flinders team.
“This represents the start of a new era where artificial intelligence is going to play an increasingly dominant role in drug discovery and design,” Dr Petrovsky said.
There have been more than 96,000 confirmed flu cases in Australia in 2019, with the number in Western Australia nearly doubling to almost 10,000 within a week of June, and up from just 1,400 in the same week of 2018. Deaths from flu in WA also nearly doubled in the same week, from 15 to 29.
More than 220 Australians died from seasonal flu in 2019, with 57 flu-related deaths in NSW, 44 in South Australia, nearly 40 in Queensland and 48 in Victoria before the end of June. Many of the deceased had received the flu shot.
The US clinical trial will take about 12 months to complete, with the aim of recruiting 240 healthy volunteers.
The trial is sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the US National Institutes of Health.
In 2009 the team at Flinders were the first in the world to develop a new swine flu vaccine to combat the 2009 pandemic.
“It takes decades to develop a new human vaccine and this is extremely hard to achieve under Australian funding models which tend to be short term,” Dr Petrovsky said.
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