After years of research, the University of Georgia researchers who have overseen the development of a universal flu vaccine have been awarded $8 million and may see the largest award UGA has ever received if all contract options are completed.
The National Institutes of Health has partnered with UGA faculty and may grant up to $130 million over seven years to lead the Collaborative Influenza Vaccine Innovation Centers, which will collaborate with teams from 14 other universities and research institutes.
The hope is to replace the seasonal flu vaccine.
“We need better vaccines to protect [people with weakened immune systems] because our seasonal vaccines are not always as effective as we would like them to be,” said Ted Ross, the lead researcher.
While the main goal is to create a “broadly protective” vaccine, Ross plans to research “high-risk populations,” such as children, the elderly or those with weakened immune systems, he said.
Given that the flu killed more than twice the number of people in motor vehicle accidents in the U.S. during the 2017-2018 flu season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, epidemiologists prepare a new seasonal flu vaccine eight to nine months in advance of the next season.
The manufacturing process takes some time, however, which is another reason Ross and his team are striving for a universal vaccine.
“The vaccines we will develop could eliminate some of the guesswork in this process by protecting against multiple forms of influenza, even those we don’t know exist yet,” Ross said.
The first year of work using the $8 million budget begins this month and will continue through 2026.