Growing up, every child is familiar with the pain of a seasonal flu shot. However, there is still a chance to catch the flu even with the shot, due to the flu virus’s high variability and adaptability. The major issue with flu vaccine production is a long production time. Using traditional methods, it usually takes 4-6 months for a vaccine to be generated against a particular flu strain, which gives us little leeway when a novel strain of influenza virus emerges.
FluBlok, a vaccine generated from caterpillars, is designed to tackle this issue. Instead of using the full virus, researchers used genetic engineering tools to graft a piece of the flu virus onto an insect virus. The resulting recombinant virus is then injected into caterpillar cells in order to grow and produce the materials for the final vaccine. This shortens production time from 4-6 months to a mere 8 weeks. The shortened production time means that vaccines specific to seasonal novel flu strains can be produced to offer better protection. A recent clinical trial also shows that FluBlok offers at least equal, if not better, protection compared to traditional flu vaccines.
The findings regarding FluBlok were well received, and demonstrated potential for the same strategy to be used in other vaccines. However, most of the clinical trial was composed of elderly participants. To generalize the effect of the vaccine, younger participants, especially children, must be included to elucidate FluBok’s effect on the general population. Additional studies are also required to understand if this vaccine should be given yearly, and if it is capable of protection against multiple virus strains.
Acknowledgments: Many thanks to Madeleine Jennewein, a graduate student from the Virology Program at Harvard University, for providing expertise and opinions on this subject matter.
Managing Correspondent: Bing Shui
Media Coverage: Caterpillar-Grown Flu Vaccine Protects Better Than Egg-Incubated Vaccine – NBC News