Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute aim to improve flu and malaria vaccines with the support of a new $12 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
With the funding, the Scripps Research team will expand their studies of antibodies that can neutralize many strains of malaria and influenza. Past Scripps Research studies have shown these “broadly neutralizing antibodies” can serve as guides for designing promising vaccine candidates against influenza, AIDS and other diseases.
The World Health Organization estimates that malaria killed 445,000 people in 2016, the last year when data was reported. Influenza also remains a global killer—up to 650,000 people die each year from seasonal flu.
The grant will be administered by Ian Wilson, DPhil, DSc, Hansen Professor of Structural Biology at Scripps Research and chair of the Department of Integrative Structural and Computational Biology, who has studied influenza since 1977. Wilson and his colleagues have analyzed the structures of possible influenza vaccine candidates with the potential to eliminate the need for an annual flu shot.
“We want to apply the methodologies and expertise that we have accumulated over many years at TSRI for HIV and other pathogens to investigate malaria and help design a more effective and longer lasting flu vaccine,” says Wilson.
Co-leading the study is Dennis Burton, PhD, chair of Scripps Research’s Department of Immunology and Microbiology, and scientific director of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) Neutralizing Antibody Center and of the National Institutes of Health’s Center for HIV/AIDS Vaccine Immunology and Immunogen Discovery (CHAVI-ID). Co-investigators include professors Andrew Ward, PhD, and William Schief, PhD. The malaria research component of the project is also part of a larger collaboration across several institutions.
“We have a great team here at Scripps Research for rational design of vaccines, and we look forward to taking on malaria and flu with this generous funding from the Gates Foundation,” says Burton.