The Pirbright Institute in England has found that monoclonal antibodies developed in pigs can be used in research to develop human anti-virus vaccines.
The research team said it has generated the first pig antibodies against swine influenza that protect against infection and recognize the same parts of the flu virus as human antibodies.
This indicates they could be used to develop and assess human antibody therapies and their delivery methods, a release from the group said.
These antibodies also have the potential to improve how flu virus evolution is monitored and inform decisions about annual flu vaccine selection.
Pirbright scientists worked in collaboration with the University of Oxford, The Francis Crick Institute and The Pirbright Livestock Antibody Hub to generate pig antibodies in the laboratory (known as monoclonal antibodies, or mAbs). These are the first pig mAbs to be generated which target the influenza virus, the release said.
These mAbs recognize the same two main sites of the flu virus haemagglutinin protein that are targeted by human antibodies and were found to be just as effective at neutralising the swine flu strain that caused the 2009 pandemic, it said.
The scientists then treated pigs with one of the mAbs prior to infection and they were protected from severe disease. The flu virus was also eliminated from their lungs. This indicates that the mAbs have great therapeutic potential and could be used to evaluate mAb delivery methods.
The findings in the study, published in PLOS Pathogens, demonstrate that pig mAbs are more closely matched to human antibodies and could therefore improve the reliability of human vaccine selection, the release said.
Ferrets are commonly used as models to monitor flu virus evolution and to design or select vaccines that will provide the best protection against human seasonal flu strains. However, ferret antibodies only recognize one of the two main haemagglutinin sites that human antibodies target.