Researchers are using AI to craft the perfect flu shot

A collaboration between Boston-based pharmaceutical startup Berg and French company Sanofi could one day result in more precise flu vaccines and even personalized shots tailored to individuals’ unique immune systems, Time reported March 5.

Berg and Sanofi’s partnership was established to apply AI and machine learning to understand the flu—an ever-changing virus that costs the U.S. billions of dollars and thousands of deaths annually. Right now, each year’s flu vaccine is built around recommendations from an elite group of scientists who advise the World Health Organization on which strains are likely to wreak havoc that season.

“Even though we have a vaccine we’ve been using for decades, we really don’t have a handle on exactly what type of response a new vaccine should be inducing to give us the best protection,” said Richard Webby, director of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Studies on the Ecology of Influenza in Animals at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and part of the WHO’s influenza advisory. “Any efforts looking at that question are really important—I’d say it’s exactly what (Berg) is doing.”

Specifically, researchers at Berg have been collecting data about mRNA variations and metabolite and protein concentrations from hundreds of patients exposed to the flu vaccine and processing that data with a novel AI algorithm.

“The work is really important because we obviously want to have more efficacy and protection against the flu,” Niven Narain, Berg’s co-founder and CEO, told Time.

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