A nurse administers an influenza beat at Perry Memorial Hospital in Princeton, Illinois, October 12 2017. A nurse administers an…
Photo: Daniel Acker / Bloomberg
Producing better flu shots comes down to dispensing with 1940s technology according to CSL Ltd., saying that its new method of vaccine production can offer better protection against the virus that killed nearly 200 US children last season.
Flucel wax, an immunization produced by CSL’s Seqirus unit with cell-based technology, was 36.2 percent more effective in preventing flu-like disease last winter than conventional chicken-egg shoots, based companies said in a study released Friday.
Vaccination is recognized as the best way to protect against respiratory diseases, killing as many as 650,000 people annually. Nevertheless, the effectiveness of the shot varies from year to year, depending on the proximity of the match between the seasonal circulation virus and the vaccine, which is usually reformulated annually. While eggs have been used to breed influenza viruses for vaccines for decades, researchers have found that fluids tend to undergo adaptive changes once inside the egg, making it more suitable for chickens, not humans. Reinforcement of vaccine virus in mammalian cell culture aims to avoid that problem.
“This is a real step forward,” said Paul Perreault, CSL’s CEO, in a telephone interview. “Cell-based techniques show effectiveness. It tends to provide a better match and helps tremendous confidence for consumers to go out and get vaccinated.”
The prospect of better protection comes at a higher cost. Seqirus, the world’s largest cell-based flu vaccine producer, says Flucelvax has a list price of $ 20.47 for a standard 0.5 ml dose – slightly more than egg-based options like Fluzone, Fluarix and FluLaval, whose prices range from $ 15 to $ 17 , according to Bloomberg data. An alternative egg-free approach from Paris-based Sanofi, called Flublok, uses recombinant proteins to genetically match existing strains.
“It’s a small premium on cell-based, and should be if it’s more efficient,” Perreault said.
Seqirus made 21 million doses using technology during the 2017-2018 season at a plant in Holly Springs, North Carolina. A process improvement program recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration will enable access and respond faster in the event of flu pandemic or vaccine deficiency.
“With egg-based vaccines, you have to order several eggs and need more chickens,” said Perreault. “But cells can be generated immediately.”
The company collected electronic records from 92192 people who received a cell-based vaccine and 1,255,983 people who received an egg-based vaccine during the last flu season between 1 August 2017 and 31 March 2018. The specimen population comprised US patients over 4 years of age who received some form of primary care vaccine.
The latest 2017-2018 North American influenza season, where the H3N2 strain dominated was particularly poor, which led to approximately 900,000 hospital stays, including 185 childhood deaths, in the United States alone.
Last year’s shot reduced a person’s overall risk of seeking medical treatment at a 40-percent flu-like disease clinic, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta said this month. The effectiveness of the H3N2 strain was 25 percent t.
So-called egg-adapted changes of the virus used in the vaccine may have contributed. The production method was discovered by Nobel Prize winner Frank Macfarlane Burnet in Melbourne in the 1940s and was routinely used by vaccine makers since.