News Feature | November 17, 2014

New Drug Could Boost Vaccine Efficacy In Elderly Patients

By Suzanne Hodsden

Scientists at Oxford University have discovered a new compound which could potentially boost the immune systems of elderly patients and make their systems more receptive to vaccines, MedicalXpress reports.

As a body ages, its immune system becomes more susceptible to infection and is less able to fight illness once it occurs. Research has discovered that the process by which an immune system memorizes an infection deteriorates with age.

Most vaccines work by introducing a small amount of pathogen to the system so that the T cells may learn and remember how to fight it off. If the system is unable to remember the infection, there is a smaller likelihood that a vaccine will be effective.

Ongoing Oxford studies finds that a compound called spermadine can boost the t-cell response in aged mice and increase the immune system’s ability to memorize an infection and protect the body from later exposure.

The compound works by boosting a normal cellular response called autophagy, which destroys the defective or damaged parts of a cell. The Oxford research suggests that this process is vital to the creation of healthy T cells and a healthy immune response.

Daniel Puleston reports that the results were even better than expected. “The effect was so powerful that the treated mice mounted an even stronger T cell response to the vaccine than young mice. It’s the equivalent of a 90 year old responding to a vaccine better than a 20 year old, which makes this a very exciting pathway to target as a potential way of boosting vaccine protection in the elderly.”

In a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), the CDC estimated that, of the 49,000 seasonal influenza deaths reported each year, 90 percent of patients were aged 65 or older. Though the CDC still recommends that elderly patients receive a flu shot, they acknowledge that the vaccine is less effective than it is in younger patients.

Katja Simon, senior author of the Oxford study, explains, “Our aim is to make that protection even better by adding immune boosting compounds to routine vaccinations.”

Simon said she expects development to last another five to ten years.