Mount Sinai researchers receive NIH award to develop universal flu vaccine

Researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai have received a contract award of up to $132 million from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), as part of a new Collaborative Influenza Vaccine Innovation Centers (CIVICs) program to further develop the universal flu vaccine.

The Icahn School of Medicine and Emory University will form a joint vaccine center that will become part of the large CIVICs network of research centers. The total funding for the Mount Sinai-Emory Multi-Institutional Vaccine Center will be distributed over the next seven years. CIVICs will work together in a coordinated multidisciplinary effort to develop more durable, broadly protective, and longer-lasting influenza vaccines.

2018 marked the 100th anniversary of the devastating 1918 H1N1 pandemic, which claimed at least 40 million lives. A century later, influenza viruses continue to be a global public health concern claiming up to 650,000 lives every year, according to the World Health Organization. Seasonal influenza causes millions of hospitalizations and between 12,000 and 79,000 deaths in the United States each year.

We are in a race to produce a vaccine that will protect populations across the globe. The influenza virus is constantly changing each year, and spreads readily from person to person. With each new strain comes a new formulation that we hope will match and protect against that strain.

If we are successful, and I know we will be, we will develop a vaccine that provides universal protections against each new strain. I am confident we will get there."

Florian Krammer, PhD, Associate Professor of Microbiology, Icahn School of Medicine, Mount Sinai

Krammer is the co-Principal Investigator.

The Mount Sinai-Emory Multi-Institutional Vaccine Center will be co-led by Dr. Krammer and Rafi Ahmed, PhD, co-Principal Investigator, Director of the Emory Vaccine Center, and Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Emory University's School of Medicine.

"The challenge with influenza infection is that the virus is changing continuously and when a pandemic strain emerges that is strikingly different, protection from the seasonal influenza vaccine is very minimal," says Dr. Ahmed. "The goal of this CIVICs grant is to develop a Universal Influenza Vaccine that would protect us not only from the currently circulating influenza virus strains but also from pandemic strains that may emerge in the future."

"Synergistic teams"

The Mount Sinai-Emory Multi-Institutional Vaccine Center will include a team of experts from diverse disciplines encompassing vaccinology, virology, immunology, biochemistry, structural biology, pathology, veterinary medicine, virus evolution, bioinformatics, and epidemiology.

The Center will focus on two research areas: vaccine design and development (designing, optimizing, and selecting vaccine candidates, delivery technologies, and adjuvants) and immunology analysis (test vaccine candidates in preclinical models in immunogenicity and challenge studies).

The aim is to develop improved seasonal and universal influenza virus vaccines that induce long-lasting protection against seasonal strains, influenza viruses that spread from animals to humans, and future pandemic influenza viruses. The Center will also study mechanisms of immune protection against pathogen acquisition, disease, and transmission, informing the rational design and testing of improved influenza vaccines.

A scientific leadership group will guide the large-scale research project. Institution partners include Emory University, Scripps Research Institute in California, La Jolla Institute of Immunology (also California), the University of Minnesota, University of Michigan, Washington University, Yale School of Medicine, the University of Chicago, the University of Wisconsin, The Wistar Institute, Rockefeller University, Stanford University and PATH.

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