Influenza Resource Centre
The Influenza Resource Centre (IRC) of the NIBSC has played a key role in influenza vaccine standardisation and control for over 30 years, and its scientific expertise in the field is highly respected internationally. NIBSC has a central role in supporting the selection of WHO recommended viruses for vaccine use, development of candidate influenza vaccine viruses suitable for vaccine manufacture and in the development of reagents for influenza vaccine standardisation. (Full reagent update)
The key factors in influenza vaccines are that the virus changes continuously and the vaccine must match the circulating strains. Twice a year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) coordinate a meeting, which includes NIBSC, where global influenza activity is reviewed and decisions on the vaccine strains of virus are made. Strains suitable for production and specific reagents for assays are then required.
The meeting for the northern hemisphere takes place in February and immunisation of at risk groups begins in October; a new vaccine is therefore developed in 6 months rather than the more usual 10 years.Similarly, the meeting for the southern hemisphere takes place in September and immunisation of at risk groups begins in February.
The IRC is essential to this process. High growth strains derived from the recommended strains but more suitable for production because of their yield are produced and distributed to manufacturers. Reagents for measuring potency are developed and calibrated; the procedure is a complex global collaboration between regulators and manufacturers conducted under extreme time pressure.
Research includes seeking alternative approaches for assaying the potency of the vaccine and systematic methods to improve the yield of production strains; at the moment the high-growth variants are produced purely empirically. The antigenicity and immunogenicity of the constantly changing influenza strains are investigated in vitro and in vivo and the group plays a major role in clinical trials and their standardisation.
All of these approaches are also applied to preparedness for the next pandemic where new strains appear that rapidly sweep the world requiring an even more rapid response. They include the H1N1 pandemic strain of 2009 among others.
The IRC also arranges regular meetings and can provide training (Training and Events)