SCIENTISTS have found a way to design and manufacture vaccines in weeks rather than months, potentially cutting the time it would take to respond to a global influenza epidemic.
Currently, influenza vaccines are produced by growing the live virus in chicken eggs or cultured cells - a cumbersome and time-consuming process.
But researchers from Germany's Friedrich Loeffler Institute have found a way to make a vaccine artificially by copying the influenza virus' RNA code - a template viruses use to build proteins and evolve.
Their findings, outlined in the journal Nature Biotechnology this week, mean the time and resources needed to manufacture influenza vaccines is cut dramatically. It could also allow scientists to respond more rapidly to make next generation vaccines as the influenza virus evolves and changes.
''We have a significant need for improved technologies that could be rapidly adapted to match circulating strains and allow efficient, large-scale production if necessary,'' said the paper's lead author Lothar Stitz.
The new synthetic vaccine was tested in mice, ferrets and pigs. The results showed that the vaccine could not only protect the animal from influenza infection but that it also had the potential to provide protection from new strains as they emerged. While not yet tested in humans the immune response observed in pigs is promising as, like humans, they contract influenza - a virus not all animals are susceptible to.