FluGen CEO Discusses Work On Universal Flu Vaccine

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FluGen CEO Discusses Work On Universal Flu Vaccine

Premiere Date: 
November 15, 2013

Paul Radspinner says his company will begin testing the vaccine on people soon.

 

Episode Transcript: 

Frederica Freyberg:

It's flu shot season and a common question always is how well does this vaccine cover this year's flu? Well, one Madison company hopes that question will soon go the way of body aches and congestion. Flugen, co-founded by a UW-Madison professor of virology and influenza researcher, is in the final stages of marketing a so-called universal flu vaccine. Flugen CEO Paul Radspinner is here with details. And thanks for being here.   

Paul Radspinner:

Happy to be here.   

Frederica Freyberg:

Am I pushing a little too far ahead to say you're in the final stages of this universal vaccine?   

Paul Radspinner:

I think so. I think we're not in human clinical trials but we will be within a year, and then we're going to find out very quickly if it's going to be able to do what we've seen it do so far.   

Frederica Freyberg:

How big of a biotechnology innovation is this?   

Paul Radspinner:

The flu vaccine hasn't changed in virtually 60 years. Manufacturing methods haven't changed much. This would revolutionize the treatment-- or the prevention of flu.   

Frederica Freyberg:

How?   

Paul Radspinner:

Ultimately, you're going to be-- instead of currently if you get a flu vaccine, it's protecting against one kind of strain, a certain kind of antibody. And if that's not lined up, as you mentioned earlier, then you're not going to have protection. If, on the other hand, you had a vaccine that could, which we think we have, which could protect against any antibodies, anything that came out of any kind of flu, now all of a sudden you've got something that's really substantial.   

Frederica Freyberg:

Because how effective are the flu shots that we're currently getting year after year?   

Paul Radspinner:

No one really knows, because there's not been a lot of really good controlled studies, but the CDC did a study last year with last year's vaccine, and for the elderly patients, who are most at risk, 65 and older, the vaccine was 9% effective. So your chances were one out of ten, roughly.   

Frederica Freyberg:

What is the layperson explanation for the science behind this universal vaccine?   

Paul Radspinner:

So the way I would characterize it is that every year you have that single antibody, and if you remember the H1N1 pandemic that came around, some people were very well protected against that, and it's because they've probably been exposed to real flu. So our vaccine, what happens is it tricks the body into believing it's truly infected with flu. Before you can get sick, it stops. So it comes into the cell or into the body, it goes through the standard replication or repeating cycle and then just stops and the body thinks it's infected so it sends an immune response and that's what primes you to be prepared for when the real flu comes.   

Frederica Freyberg:

And so it would cover all of those really bad ones out there, the bird flu and whatever is circulating around Asia and all of that?   

Paul Radspinner:

Let me give you an example. Right now, H7N9 is in China and it's mortality rate is 35% and in comparison when the Spanish influenza came, its mortality rate was 2% and 100 million people died. So our vaccine currently blocks, with a vaccine that's a normal seasonal vaccine, can block against H7N9 bird flu, H5N1 bird flu, and if that comes through in people, what that would translate in to is if you got your seasonal flu vaccine and all of a sudden a strange flu from China came over, you would have some protection there.   

Frederica Freyberg:

Now, how is it currently being tested before it goes to human trials?   

Paul Radspinner:

So what you have to do is you have to go in animal models and be able to prove that the vaccine actually can do what I'm saying it does, and it has. You also have to prove that it's safe, because clearly, safety with vaccines is paramount. So we've done a lot of bench work or science work. We've done a lot of animal work, and currently we're ready to go into humans here within a year.   

Frederica Freyberg:

And who will become the humans that take the first vaccine?   

Paul Radspinner:

So you start with healthy, young adults, you know, oftentimes students may be appreciated here in town, but you'll know that it has to be safe at that point, and you'll start very slowly with very small doses, and then work your way up, and prove the safety, and in that phase one trial. Then you move on and start to measure the immunology, and that's where you start to get an angle on how effective it is. 

Frederica Freyberg:

How big of a financial or economic deal would-- I think you're calling it Redee flu, this vaccine be, if it takes off?   

Paul Radspinner:

Well, in a-- and the way I look at it, and obviously the company as shareholders that we want to bring a return to, but the impact on human health is by far the most important thing from my perspective. But this vaccine, if you think about it, could really reduce the amount of money the US government spends on stockpiling flu vaccines for pandemics and so forth. So we're really excited for that, and it could be a dramatic effect-- or it could have a dramatic effect on the future of how flu vaccines are delivered.   

Frederica Freyberg:

Well, we hope it makes it to market. Paul Radspinner, thanks very much.

Paul Radspinner:

Thank you.


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