The Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Infectious Diseases is getting a boost to do just that, with a new grant from the National Institutes of Health that is worth up to $130 million over seven years to develop a new, more advanced influenza vaccine designed to protect against multiple strains of influenza virus in a single dose. UGA faculty will lead one of NIH’s new prestigious Collaborative Influenza Vaccine Innovation Centers and collaborate with teams from 14 other universities and research institutes to create and test new vaccines that may one day replace seasonal vaccines administered every year during flu season.
“How do you deal with a vaccine if you are constantly playing catch up?” asks Ross, who also serves as director of the University of Georgia Center for Vaccines and Immunology. One of the country’s leading infectious disease researchers, Ross came to UGA in 2015 to lead its newly established Center for Vaccines and Immunology.
“We need to come up with a strategy where we will always have a vaccine on the shelf, ready to use, no matter what version of the flu came along,” he says. “But how do we make vaccines against future, variant strains that don’t yet exist?”
The diseases we’ve defeated through vaccines—polio, smallpox and the like—have one thing in common: limited or no variety in their strains. That’s why they can be eliminated with a single inoculation.
Influenza is different. It has many strains, and those strains are constantly evolving. Sometimes they evolve so quickly that a vaccine developed in February is obsolete by the time flu season starts in October.
“What we need to do is target the major subtypes of influenza and come up with a vaccine that recognizes multiple versions,” Ross says. “It may take more than one type of vaccine, but at least we would be broadly protected against the viruses that have shown pandemic potential.”