Gimme my MF59, I don't care what the antivaxers say...

Aug 03 2011 Published by under AntiVax

MF59 is a proprietary adjuvant (we’ll get to this later) that is used to increase the efficacy of vaccinations by further stimulating the body’s immune response. Is it the harbinger of “pharmageddon” as the antivaccination crowd would like you to believe? Probably not.

But first lets go back to what is an adjuvant and why are they in our vaccinations to begin with. Adjuvants are agents that modify effects of other agents, you know, like drugs or vaccinations. The use of purified vaccine antigens have created vaccines that are better “characterized” but the tradeoff is that these vaccines are not an immunogenic as their more crude redneck vaccine cousins*. One thought is that the crude vaccine kinfolk also had some immunostimulatory components in the rough formula like ligands for Toll-like and other immune receptors. Studies of adjuvants are starting to build a role at the molecular level for activating specific aspects of our innate immune system.

Also adjuvants are important for certain populations who would otherwise not develop the proper immune response to vaccination like a young adult receiving the vaccine. So if it’s so good why is everyone hating on MF59?

A previous study demonstrated that in non-autoimmune mice that were injected with squalene (a component of MF59) were associated with elevated rates of lupus autoantibodies. This is possibly alarming but mice are mice and humans are humans and the fact that these BALB/c mice are inbred doesn’t necessarily mean MF59 is causing lupus in humans. A more recent study looking at MF59 in flu vaccines in humans suggest that it has a good safety outcome profile when compared to that of influenza vaccines lacking MF59.

MF59 has been claimed to be responsible for Gulf War Syndrome and anthrax vaccination sickness but there is no way that its possible. MF59 wasn’t the adjuvant used in the anthrax vaccination, it was aluminum hydroxide, another classically used adjuvant.

So when flu season rolls around again, I’m rolling up my sleeve for my yearly influenza vaccination and a little bit of MF59 for good measure.

*Early DPT vaccines used whole-cell agents rather than recombinant antigens.

5 responses so far

  • chall says:

    Nice post, and timely.

    Two things I thought about.... Flu vaccine with MF59 (aka; The European Swine Flu vaccine) has been implicated in "increased incidence of narcolepsi" - especially in Finland and Sweden where the two FDA bodies have suggested that teens should not take the adjuvanted vaccine. And the recommendation would be specific to teens (i.e. younger than 20years of age)

    I was a little surprised about that since they recommended it slightly before their investigations were concluded.... and even looking at the data I'm not completely convinced that the correlation is 'causal' nor entirely up to the adjuvant effect. Partly because cause of narcolepsi is not fully understood, partly because it sort of seems to be very regional to Sweden and Finland which to me indicates that it might be some kind of genetic/regional component to it all. (And that the control group is slighty hard to get to too... )

    Of course though, better safe than sorry. My biggest concern is that swine flu has a higher mortality and morbitity in the age group below 20 years though so.... something is clearly interesting to research there

    Second. Adjuvants are a good idea since they make the amount of antigens needed to elicit a good immune response when vaccintating lower. You therefore need less antigen in each shot. Or, since this is the way I'd like to see it, you can mix the [expensive part] specific antigen with adjuvant so the produced amount of antigen makes more doses and therefore can help more people....

    [disclaimer would be that I've worked with flu and vaccine components, not in pharma in this case though. No money gain for me there].

  • Brendan says:

    @chall ... not to nitpick, but the vaccine implicated in the narcolepsy cases is gsk's vaccine, which has its own proprietary adjuvant AS03. it, too, is an oil-in-water adjuvant but is distinct from MF59, which belongs to novartis. fwiw.

  • Thanks to you both for the info and giving me more stuff to read up on.

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