From research to reality: latest news from Weizmann UK

Date: Tuesday, January 5, 2021

In October 2020 Weizmann UK hosted its annual From Research to Reality lecture as a livestreamed event on the potential for a universal flu vaccine.  The Weizmann Institute’s Prof. Ruth Arnon of the Department of Immunology gave her extraordinary account of the scientific journey involved in developing a vaccine potentially capable of protecting people from flu for many years and against all strains of the virus in a single shot. It was also a chance to hear from Prof. Roee Ozeri, Vice President for Resource Development, on the Weizmann Institute's plans for a new Institute for Infectious Disease Research.

The vaccine, which was the result of almost 15 years of research by Prof. Arnon and colleagues, had been created by Israeli company BiondVax Pharmaceuticals and had showed promising results in Phase 2 Clinical Trials. At the time of the event we were waiting anxiously to hear the results of the Phase 3 Clinical Trials for the vaccine which were due imminently.

However, in the days following the event we heard the disappointing news that BiondVax had announced that the results of the Phase 3 clinical trials, which included 12,463 volunteers from multiple countries, showed no clear difference between subjects that received the vaccine and those who received a placebo.

While this is clearly not the news that we were hoping for, it has highlighted two important factors. The first being that there remains a need for a Universal Flu Vaccine as the current requirement to create an annual vaccine for each new strain of flu is a costly and time-consuming exercise with knock on public health effects for rolling out a global vaccination programme each year.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the results demonstrate just how difficult it is to make successful breakthroughs in scientific research. The philosophy of the Weizmann Institute is Curiosity driven Science – our scientists pursue their research to see what will happen. It is this approach that has led to Weizmann's position as one of the world’s top-ranking centres of basic research. There is no guarantee of success and it is certainly true that when success does come along it is often the result of many failures from which we have learned valuable lessons along the way.

Regardless of the results, Prof. Arnon is to be congratulated on her enormous achievements over a lifetime of scientific discovery. She is an inspiration for the next generation of Weizmann scientists.

The From Research to Reality event it is now available to view in full via Weizmann UK’s Livestream Archive.