A new vaccine, promised to be more effective than the current flu shot, will soon be tested in human trials across the United States after being created by researchers at an Australian university.
The groundbreaking creation, which has been labelled the first human vaccine to be designed completely on a computer through artificial intelligence (AI), is aimed to provide better protection against the deadly influenza virus.
Over 220 Australians have died this year alone from the flu in what has been classed a horror season with medical professionals claiming the current vaccine is not 100 per cent effective.
The newly created vaccine, which was designed at Flinders University in Adelaide, South Australia is said to enhance the ability to protect humans with hopes to lower the death rate from the viral infection in coming years.
“Despite currently available vaccines, flu remains a very major global health problem,” university Professor and Research Director Dr Nikolai Petrovsky explained.
“So far in 2019 thee have been over 96,000 confirmed cases across Australia. The number in Western Australia nearly doubled to 10,000, as did the number of deaths, there have been 57 deaths recorded in New South Wales, 44 in South Australia and nearly 40 in Queensland.”
Petrovsky developed the technology behind the vaccine using adjuvants – substances which act as a turbocharger to enhance their ability to protect against infection.
The technology behind the improved flu shot is believed to be the first human drug in the world to be completely designed using AI. Although computers have been used in the past to help in drug design, this vaccine technology was independently designed by an AI program called SAM (Search Algorithm for Ligands), created by the Flinders-based team.
“This represents the start of a new era where artificial intelligence is going to play an increasingly dominant role in drug discovery and design,” Petrovsky explained.
“It is tremendous to see such a promising vaccine that we developed with the very first human trials being done at Flinders, progressing onto the world stage.”
The US clinical trials are expected to take around 12 months to complete with around 240 healthy volunteers recruited to take part.
Thankful for the support received Petrovsky said the trials couldn’t be carried out without the assistance of the US government and the long-term funding received to undertake the research.
“It takes decades to develop a new human vaccine and this is extremely hard to achieve under Australian funding models which tend to be short term,” he added.
The announcement follows news last week that up to 20 per cent of people who are vaccinated still get the flu.
Speaking to Neil Mitchell on 3AW radio on Friday, Associate Professor Lou Irving, Director of Respiratory and Sleep Medication at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, explained while the number varies from year to year, it does happen.
“The vaccine is not 100 per cent effective and we do need to have other measures up our sleeve, particularly in a busy year like this year.”
Despite up to a fifth of vaccinated people still at risk of getting the flu, Irving said Australians should still remain confident that they’re protected because the majority of people will be covered.
“It’s still the best way of preventing flu, but it’s not 100 per cent,” he explained. “We need to be alert and forearmed that if we become unwell having been vaccinated with a flu-like illness, there are other measures that may need to be taken.”
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