BARDA provides funding to Vaxart, U. of Cambridge for flu vaccine improvements

As part of its responsibility to prepare for public health threats, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' BARDA unit is seeking more effective influenza vaccines to incorporate into its pandemic strategy. Now, it's funding two projects it hopes will help the state of affairs.

BARDA Director Robin Robinson

In granting a total of $38.3 million to two organizations, BARDA, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, will help fund the development of a room-temperature stable recombinant flu vaccine and further studies into antigenic mapping, the forecasting of how flu viruses change over time.

For its first project, BARDA will provide Vaxart with $14 million to work on its oral flu vaccine candidate, which in previous studies has shown the potential to elicit an immune response associated with protection against multiple flu strains. The delivery method, BARDA says, would be an improvement over traditional vaccines in an emergency situation as it wouldn't require a trained professional to administer.

Through the second initiative, the agency will fund the University of Cambridge with an initial $8 million, but potentially up to $24.3 million, to build on previous NIAID-supported studies of antigenic mapping. Mapping the changes of flu strains could improve the process of matching vaccines with currently circulating flu viruses and newly emerging ones, BARDA said in its statement.

Due to a strain mutation, seasonal flu vaccines last year were just 19% effective in preventing medical visits compared to around 50% for the previous three years. 

Both programs are part of BARDA's larger effort to assist with the development of medical countermeasures against pandemic influenza and other public health threats. In addition to supporting flu vaccine improvements, BARDA has made extensive commitments in the Ebola vaccine space in the past year.

"Developing more effective and universal influenza vaccines is a vital element in our strategy to prepare the nation for a pandemic, as well as improving public health when seasonal influenza virus is circulating," BARDA Director Robin Robinson said in a statement.

As strain-specific flu vaccines have faced their challenges of late, many companies and organizations--such as The Scripps Research Institute, Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ), BiondVax ($BVXV) and FluGen--are racing to develop improved jabs. Recently, FluGen raised $12 million to fund a Phase I trial of its universal flu vaccine candidate, and BiondVax initiated a U.S. Phase II study and a European Phase IIb of its own. In August, Johnson & Johnson and The Scripps Research Institute said their most advanced universal flu vaccine candidate fully protected mice in a lethal challenge.

- here's the release