UGA gets major funding to develop flu vaccine

University of Georgia professor Ted Ross will lead an effort to develop flu vaccines as part of a seven-year initiative with more than a dozen schools and medical facilities. Photo Credit: University of Georgia.

The University of Georgia announced Monday it is leading a major federally-funded effort to develop a revolutionary flu vaccine that could provide long-lasting, universal protection and potentially reduce deaths.

The goal is to develop a new, more advanced flu vaccine to protect against multiple strains of the virus in a single dose, university officials told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The hope is the vaccine shot could be effective for anywhere from five to 20 years, said Ted M. Ross, the director of UGA’s Center for Vaccines and Immunology.

Researchers will have up to seven years and could receive as much as $130 million from the National Institutes of Health to do the work. For UGA, which Ross said will receive about half of that money, this will be the largest amount ever received from the agency for a project.

“This is a tremendous advance for us,” Ross, also the Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar of Infectious Diseases in UGA’s College of Veterinary Medicine, said in a telephone interview.

Flu season usually begins in October and ends in February. Last year, over 1,500 people in metro Atlanta were hospitalized for flu-related illnesses, and 44 people died from the flu.

Georgia's 2017-2018 flu season was particularly brutal. The long-lasting flu season didn't subside until the end of April. It claimed 145 lives statewide and led to more than 3,000 hospitalizations in metro Atlanta.

While many companies and schools offer free flu shots, polls show more than a third of Americans don’t get the shots.

Ross has worked since 2005 on vaccine strategies that have been tested on laboratory animals. The initial research will include testing vaccines in healthy adults. Vaccines will then be tested for high-risk groups, such as the elderly, children, pregnant women and people with diabetes or obesity.

Although influenza can change, Ross said he’s confident some vaccines will be effective for longer periods.

“I’m anxious to see how well it works,” he said. “I’m pretty optimistic it will work well in humans.”

Emory University and Georgia Tech are part of the team that will partner in the research. Ross said the team, which includes 37 investigators and more than 100 research technicians worldwide, filed a 250-page application in November for a contract to create a vaccine. The team learned it was a finalist in May.

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