Sanofi Pasteur's Efforts to Combat the Flu

Lauren Santye, Assistant Editor
Published Online: Monday, December 19th, 2016
As part of Sanofi Pasteur’s bioinformatics efforts to improve influenza vaccine options, an investigative team is using virtual reality-like technology to analyze 3D images of flu virus particles, according to IEEE Spectrum.

The investigators’ primary goal is to help produce a broadly protective influenza vaccine (BPIV) that would protect an individual from many flu strains over multiple years, including those that have not yet emerged.

Although the flu vaccine is beneficial and is designed to protect against 3 to 4 strains of the flu, the vaccine developers are not always correct about which strains will be the most prevalent or the deadliest, according to IEEE. Even when the flu vaccine is accurately formulated, it only protects about 50% to 60% of people who receive it.

To analyze 3-D images of the flu virus particles and the human antibodies that attack them, Sanofi researchers use 2 high-resolution projectors that create images for the left and right eyes, to create the 3D effect.

Commercial 3D software programs, such as PyMOL, are used to visualize the flu particles, and they’re powered through a local computer cluster. On-screen molecules are generated with data from an array of public databases that contain DNA sequences of past and present strains of the virus, according to IEEE. Additionally, investigators rely on internal data on viral and antibody structures that are produced by other Sanofi laboratories.

“The 3D visualization lab allows us to perform visual analysis of these molecules at atomic-level detail,” said Eliud Oloo, manager of the Structure, Genomics, and Informatics group at Sanofi Pasteur, as reported by IEEE.

Currently, other companies are working to develop a universal vaccine that could protect individuals from all flu strains for a lifetime, but the Sanofi team doesn’t believe that to be realistic for the near future.

According to Harry Kleanthous, head of North American Discovery Research for Sanofi Pasteur, the company has instead chosen to focus on what works now: vaccines that induce antibodies to neutralize the “business” end of the hemagglutinin proteins so that they cannot attach to and infect human cells, IEEE reported.

“We think that you need the same kind of effective mechanisms that we rely upon today with current licensed vaccines, but we need to extend that coverage against many more circulating viruses,” Kleanthous said. “And we think it can be done.”

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