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University of Montana awarded $10M to develop flu vaccine

Posted at 3:56 PM, Oct 03, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-03 18:54:10-04
Doctoral student Kris Short works to prepare vaccine formulations for the University of Montana’s Center for Translational Medicine. (University of Montana photo)

MISSOULA – The University of Montana has picked up federal money to help develop a new influenza vaccine.

The National Institutes of Health have awarded a $10 million contract to come up with a new universal flu vaccine.

The five-year award was given to Dr. Jay Evans, director of UM’s Center for Translational Medicine and a research professor in the Division of Biological Sciences.

“Influenza virus infection is a serious public health problem that causes severe illness and death in high-risk populations,” Evans said. “Although vaccination remains the most effective way to prevent this disease, mismatch between vaccine strains and circulating strains can lead to a sharp drop in vaccine effectiveness.

Other UM researchers included on the award are Hélène Bazin-Lee and David Burkhart, both in the Department of Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Sciences. The project also includes investigators from the University of California, San Diego; the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai; and Inimmune Corp., a corporate development partner.

Inimmune is a biotech company located at the University’s business incubator, MonTEC. Efforts at Inimmune will be led by Dr. Kendal Ryter, the company’s vice president of manufacturing and development.

Evans said the team of vaccine researchers in UM’s Center for Translational Medicine have spent more than 10 years working on the discovery and development of new vaccine adjuvants – components added to a vaccine to improve the immune response.

The research team that earned the contract moved from GSK Vaccines in Hamilton to UM in early 2016 and is continuing its research efforts in the newly formed Center for Translational Medicine.

“We have an amazing and very talented team of researchers at UM who have spent most of their careers working on vaccine discovery and development,” Evans said, “so this award is confirmation that we are on the right path and demonstrates a very bright future for the team at UM.”

Inimmune focuses on the discovery and development of new immunomodulatory therapeutics for treatment of allergic diseases, infectious disease and cancer, according to a news release.