Development of Influenza B Universal Vaccine Candidates using the “Mosaic” Hemagglutinin Approach

Influenza B viruses cause seasonal epidemics and are a considerable burden to public health. However, protection by current seasonal vaccines is suboptimal due to the antigenic changes of the circulating strains. In this study, we report a novel universal influenza B virus vaccination strategy based on mosaic hemagglutinins. We generated mosaic B hemagglutinins by replacing the major antigenic sites of the type B hemagglutinin with corresponding sequences from exotic influenza A hemagglutinins and expressed them as soluble trimeric proteins. Sequential vaccination with recombinant mosaic B hemagglutinin proteins conferred cross-protection against both homologous and heterologous influenza B virus strains in the mouse model. Of note, we rescued recombinant influenza B viruses expressing mosaic B hemagglutinins, which could serve as the basis for a universal influenza B virus vaccine.IMPORTANCE This work reports a universal influenza B virus vaccination strategy based on focusing antibody responses to conserved head and stalk epitopes of the hemagglutinin. Recombinant mosaic influenza B hemagglutinin proteins and recombinant viruses have been generated as novel vaccine candidates. This vaccine strategy provided broad cross-protection in the mouse model. Our findings will inform and drive the development toward a more effective influenza B virus vaccine.