Broadly Protected

Research at UGA could lead to a universal flu vaccine

Ted Ross

GRA Eminent Scholar of Infectious Disease

College of Veterinary Medicine

Director, Center for Vaccines and Immunology

Written by Eric Rangus

Published 2.26.18

Every year, flu season comes around. And every year new vaccines are developed to combat it.

Creating an annual flu vaccine involves a combination of researching current strains, identifying the disease’s historical patterns, and predicting the worldwide movement of viruses. Educated guesswork plays a big role as well.

It’s an imperfect process.

The variables can be maddening to overcome, and the logistics surrounding vaccine manufacturing can be unforgiving. Choose wisely and the flu vaccine can be quite effective. Choose poorly and a disease with the potential to kill tens of thousands in the U.S. alone could run rampant.

There has to be a better way. Ted Ross is committed to finding it.

“How do you deal with a vaccine if you are constantly playing catch up?” asks Ross, a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Infectious Diseases in the University of Georgia’s College of Veterinary Medicine. 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.

Ted Ross, the Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar of Infectious Diseases and director of the Center for Vaccines and Immunology, is developing a new universal flu vaccine that could change the way we fight influenza.

“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 Sometimes they evolve so quickly that a vaccine developed in February is obsolete by the time flu season starts in October.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.”

While it's easy to think of the flu as nothing more than an inconvenience, it's important to remember that it can be deadly. In fact, flu was responsible for one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history: the 1918 influenza pandemic, which...
Infected 1 in 3 people; Affected healthy young adults; Killed 10x more than WWI;
Affected every continent; Dropped U.S. life expectancy 12 years;

For more than a decade, Ross has been working on what’s been termed a “universal vaccine” for flu. That makes for easy shorthand, but Ross is quick to clarify that even if a vaccine can be discovered to wipe out influenza, it wouldn’t be a single compound that’s injected into everyone.

Instead, an eventual flu vaccine would be collection of vaccines. The specific type would be given to patients based on a variety of factors including geography, age, medical history and other factors. Rather than a “universal” vaccine, Ross prefers the term “broadly protected.”

The development of a broadly protective vaccine is taking a big step forward, and Ross is at the forefront of the effort. In partnership with Sanofi Pasteur, the world’s largest manufacturer of influenza vaccines, Ross has developed a vaccine that protected animal models from every currently circulating strain of the H3N2 flu virus. Clinical trials in humans, a major step toward a broadly protected vaccine, are scheduled to begin in 2019.

“The clinical trials will be important because we have to see how these vaccines work,” Ross says. “The better you understand how a vaccine operates in a human, the better you can use that knowledge to other pathogens.”

How do you deal with a vaccine if you are constantly playing catch up? 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.

Ted Ross GRA Eminent Scholar of Infectious Disease, College of Veterinary Medicine

 

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