The University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine’s Alabama Vaccine Research Clinic has been chosen as one of four national trial sites to test a candidate vaccine for H7N9, a strain of avian influenza.

The trial is sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, with the purpose of having an effective vaccine ready for any future H7N9 pandemic incidence.

H7N9 was first reported in humans in China in 2013, and spreads as a result from direct exposure to infected poultry or contaminated environments. While there has not been a human infection in the United States, the trial will be testing the vaccine’s efficacy with an adjuvant (AS03) — a substance that enhances the body's immune response to an antigen — in conjunction with a quadrivalent seasonal influenza vaccine, should a future pandemic of H7N9 occur similar to the H1N1 outbreak in 2009.

The H7N9 vaccine with AS03 will be administered to 150 healthy patients who have been separated into three different groups. Some patients will already have received the standard flu vaccine, while others will not have, and the trial will monitor the reactions of H7N9 in both instances. The trial will last 16 months, with subject participation lasting for 13 of the allocated months. Enrollment has begun at UAB.

“We are excited for the opportunity to have UAB play a part in testing the H7N9 vaccine candidate, as its effectiveness could shape the way that this strain of avian influenza is treated across the world,” said Paul Goepfert, M.D., director of the Alabama Vaccine Research Clinic. “We know that new flu viruses will continue to present themselves, and we need to be prepared to protect humans against those potential strains as they become a threat.”

The University of Alabama at Birmingham is affiliated with the NIAID-funded Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Unit at Vanderbilt University (under contract number HHSN272201300023I).