Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

Font Size

Universal Flu Drug Stops All Flu Types

'Antibody Cocktail' Would Protect Against Pandemic or Seasonal Flu

Universal Flu Vaccine? continued...

Flu viruses attack by using a surface molecule -- hemagglutinin or HA -- to enter cells. HA is shaped like a lollipop, and antibodies raised by flu vaccines attack the large round head of the lollipop. But this region is extremely variable, making it easy for flu viruses to escape vaccines.

"The lollipop head tends to dominate the immune response during a vaccine response, while the stalk is somewhat hidden," Marasco said. "But this big, globular candy top is just a decoy."

The new antibodies attack what is now shown to be a much more vulnerable part of the flu virus: the lollipop-stick stem of the HA antigen.

So why not just use this antigen to make a flu vaccine? That might very well be possible.

"These antibodies pave the way for the generation of a different kind of universal flu vaccine," Ruben Donis, PhD, chief of the CDC's molecular virology and vaccines branch, said at the news conference.

But separating the stick from the lollipop is a lot harder than it sounds. The antigen has to be exactly the right shape, and the true three-dimensional shape of the HA antigen is more like three lollipops stuck together in just the right way.

Donis says a candidate vaccine based on the new antibodies is at least three to five years away.

And a vaccine may not be better than a treatment.

"People tend to emphasize vaccines as the Holy Grail of flu, as it were. But these antiviral antibodies are very effective, and can be very effective in a pandemic setting -- they just need to be used judiciously," Liddington said. "These antivirals are ready to go and should be effective just as they are, as soon as they get through FDA approval and are stockpiled in large enough amounts in metropolitan areas where an outbreak might begin."

Donis, Liddington, Marasco, and colleagues report the findings in the Feb. 22 advance online issue of the journal Nature Structural & Molecular Biology.


Today on WebMD

hot toddy
15 tips to help you feel better.
man sneezing into elbow
Do echinacea and vitamin C really help a cold?
teen girl coughing
Get a good night’s rest with these remedies.
elder berry
Eat these to fight colds, flu, and more.
Natural Cold Flu Remedies Slideshow
blowing nose
Allergy And Sinus Symptom Evaluator
Health Check
Boy holding ear

Loaded with tips to help you avoid food allergy triggers.

Loading ...

Sending your email...

This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.


Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

woman receiving vaccine shot
Bacterial or Viral Infection
How To Calm Your Cough
Sore Throat

WebMD Special Sections