Developing a better flu vaccine: Georgia researchers secure $130 million research grant

January 6, 2020

University of Georgia researchers secured a multi-million grant to create a better flu vaccine.

A better flu vaccine may come sooner rather than later, thanks to a multi-million project funded by the federal government.

There are numerous projects underway to develop universal and advanced flu vaccines, but a new research project at the University of Georgia may be the largest. The University of Georgia announced that its researchers have been granted a contract by the National Institutes of Health to developa more advanced influenza vaccine. The grant is initially worth $8 million, but could total more than $130 million if all 33 options in the seven-year of the contract are utilized.

The goal of the grant is to support research of a better single -dose influenza vaccine that can protect against multiple strands of the virus.

Ted M. Ross, PhD, GRA Eminent Scholar in Infectious Disease and Director of the Center for Vaccines and Immunology at the University of Georgia, said this project differs from other universal vaccine projects in that the vaccine, if successful, would elicit immune responses that would cover all circulating influenza strains instead of just a single variant.

"Our goal is to elicit a broadly reactive immune response against all strains of influenza that circulate in the human population for multiple seasons,"Ross said. "We want to raise the level of protection and effectiveness of the influenza vaccine to 90 percent or more in multiple influenza seasons without having to reformulate the vaccine every year."

Research is already underway, but Ross said there is still much work to be done.

"We have tested many candidates in small animal models and selected the best candidates to formulate into a human vaccine for testing in people," Ross said.

Researchers at UGA will lead the charge, collaborating with 14 other universities and research centers. The project will involve analysis of all the genetic versions of the influenza virus using a computational algorithm, and researchers will bundle the data into a single molecule that can be used to create vaccines that, in theory, would recognize any form of the virus.

According to officials from the University of Georgia, the grant is the largest single award in the school's history. Ross will lead the program alongside Stacey Schultz-Cherry, PhD, an infectious disease expert at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Together, they will work with research teams at multiple sites to select the most promising vaccines for human trials. There is no word yet as to when those trials will begin.