Universal influenza virus neuraminidase vaccine elicits protective immune responses against human seasonal and pre-pandemic strains

The hemagglutinin (HA) surface protein is the primary immune target for most influenza vaccines. The neuraminidase (NA) surface protein is often a secondary target for vaccine designs. In this study, computationally optimized broadly reactive antigen methodology was used to generate the N1-I NA vaccine antigen that was designed to cross-react with avian, swine, and human influenza viruses of N1 NA subtype. The elicited antibodies bound to NA proteins derived from A/California/07/2009 (H1N1)pdm09, A/Brisbane/59/2007 (H1N1), A/Swine/North Carolina/154074/2015 (H1N1) and A/Viet Nam/1203/2004 (H5N1) influenza viruses, with NA-neutralizing activity against a broad panel of HXN1 influenza strains. Mice vaccinated with the N1-I COBRA NA vaccine were protected from mortality and viral lung titers were lower when challenged with four different viral challenges: A/California/07/2009, A/Brisbane/59/2007, A/Swine/North Carolina/154074/2015 and A/Viet Nam/1203/2004. Vaccinated mice had little to no weight loss against both homologous, but also cross-NA genetic clade challenges. Lung viral titers were lower compared to the mock vaccinated mice, and at times, equivalent to the homologous control. Thus, the N1-I COBRA NA antigen has the potential to be a complimentary component in a multi-antigen universal influenza virus vaccine formulation that also contains HA antigens. Importance The development and distribution of a universal influenza vaccines would alleviate global economic and public health stress from annual influenza virus outbreaks. The influenza virus NA vaccine antigen allows for protection from multiple HA subtypes and virus host origins, but it has not been the focus of vaccine development. The N1-I NA antigen described here protected mice from direct challenge of four distinct influenza viruses and inhibited the enzymatic activity of a N1 influenza virus panel. The use of the NA antigen in combination with the HA widens the breadth of protection against various virus strains. Therefore, this research opens the door to the development of a longer lasting vaccine with increased protective breadth.