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In this regular feature on Breakthroughs, we highlight some of the most interesting reads in global health research from the past week.

November 28, 2022 by Hannah Sachs-Wetstone

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A study published last week found that an experimental influenza vaccine that uses messenger RNA (mRNA) technology protected against all known flu subtypes in animals. If found to be successful in humans, the universal vaccine, which would serve as a supplement to annual flu shots, could prepare the immune system to better respond to new flu viruses, reducing the likelihood of severe disease and death. These promising results come after years of efforts to develop a universal flu vaccine. While human trials are expected to begin soon, challenges including potential low tolerability of the mRNA vaccine will need to be addressed before the candidate can progress.

A recently published study estimated that approximately 7.7 million people were killed by bacterial pathogens in 2019—the second leading cause of death globally that year. More than half of these deaths resulted from five pathogens: Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, Streptococcus pneumoniae, Klebsiella pneumoniae, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. While the highest mortality rates occurred in sub-Saharan Africa, disproportionately high burdens are present throughout low- and middle-income countries, which could be linked to inadequate access to effective antimicrobials (which exist for all the bacteria investigated in the study), among other structural challenges. Despite the high burden of deaths associated with bacterial pathogens, they receive much less funding and attention compared to other diseases. These data underline the need for greater investment into a variety of interventions and innovations, including vaccine candidates, that can address drug-resistant bacterial pathogens.

A recent study determined that an antibody (DH1017.IgM) found in pregnant women who were infected with Zika but did not pass the virus to their fetuses can protect mice from the virus and suppress it to an undetectable state in their blood. The study, which began during the 2015 Brazilian Zika outbreak, could lead to the use of the antibody as a therapeutic agent and prophylactic to protect at-risk patients during an outbreak. The research team is working next to discover whether the antibody can prevent transmission from pregnant mice to their offspring and hoping to progress to human trials that include pregnant individuals who are often excluded from drug trials. Preclinical research into other vaccine candidates for Zika are also underway.

About the author

Hannah Sachs-WetstoneGHTC

Hannah supports advocacy and communications activities and member coordination for GHTC. Her role includes developing and disseminating digital communications, tracking member and policy news, engaging coalition members, and organizing meetings and events.Prior to joining GHTC, more about this author