The first human trial of a DNA vaccine designed to prevent H5N1 avian influenza infection began on December 21, 2006, when the vaccine was administered to the first volunteer at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Clinical Center in Bethesda, MD. Scientists from the Vaccine Research Center (VRC) at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), one of the NIH Institutes, designed the vaccine. The vaccine does not contain any infectious material from the influenza virus.
Unlike conventional flu vaccines, which are developed by growing the influenza virus in hens’ eggs and then administered as a weakened or killed form of the virus, DNA-based vaccines contain only portions of the influenza virus’ genetic material. Once inside the body, the DNA instructs human cells to make proteins that act as a vaccine against the virus.
VRC Director Gary Nabel, M.D., Ph.D., together with a team of scientists from the VRC recognized the potential for employing new vaccine technology against influenza, a disease for which effective vaccines have long been made, but for which the reliability of supply and manufacturing capacity has been problematic. Dr. Nabel and his colleagues previously have shown the DNA vaccine approach to be effective against influenza viruses in animal models, including highly pathogenic viruses such as the H5N1 strain and the H1N1 virus that caused the deadly 1918 pandemic. The DNA vaccine used in this study is similar to other investigational vaccines evaluated by the VRC that hold promise for controlling other viruses, such as HIV, Ebola, SARS and West Nile.
“An effective H5N1 influenza vaccine would provide a potentially life-saving advance against a global health threat,” notes NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. “More broadly, development of this DNA vaccine technology has the potential to improve our production capacity for vaccines to prevent seasonal influenza and other diseases.”
“This influenza vaccine trial is further evidence of the ability of the NIAID Vaccine Research Center to rapidly translate basic research into potential products,” he adds. “Our accelerated effort to understand and find new solutions to pandemic influenza is part of the NIAID commitment to respond to new emerging infectious disease threats and to improve public health preparedness.”