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A new study has identified three human antibodies that are effective against flu B virus strains. The same team had earlier reported finding antibodies against flu A strains. The isolation of these antibodies paves the way for the development of a universal antibody-based flu therapy for use in severe infections or to protect hospital staff during an outbreak. Importantly, these antibodies may provide key clues to the design of an active universal flu vaccine designed to protect long-term against flu viruses, not just against the current season's strains, the journal Science reports.
"To develop a truly universal flu vaccine or therapy, one needs to be able to provide protection against influenza A and influenza B viruses, and with this report we now have broadly neutralising antibodies against both," said A. Wilson. He served as the senior study investigator with Jaap Goudsmit and Robert Friesen, from the Crucell Vaccine Institute in the Netherlands.
One of the newly discovered antibodies will be of special interest to flu researchers, because it appears to protect against essentially all influenza B and influenza A strains. "It's the only one in the world that we know of that has been found to do this," said Wilson. Influenza B viruses are considered less dangerous than Influenza A viruses, and have been less intensively studied because they have less capacity to mutate into deadly pandemic strains. However, influenza B viruses account for a significant part of the annual flu illness burden in humans.
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