DOD awards UC Irvine $8M to develop Q fever vaccine

UC Irvine

While Coxiella burnetii, the bacterium that causes Q fever, is rarely fatal in humans, it has been aerosolized for use as a biological weapon before. A University of California, Irvine, team won $8 million from the DOD's Defense Threat Reduction Agency to develop a new vaccine against the bacterium.

The team will use the funds to identify antigens that provoke an immune response against Coxiella burnetii and to develop synthetic agents that can augment and control the immune response, the university said in a statement Monday. This approach could potentially be used to develop vaccines against other infectious diseases, said Philip Felgner director of the protein microarray laboratory, infectious disease at UC Irvine's School of Medicine.

Once the antigen targets are identified, the UC Irvine team will collaborate with the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) on animal studies.

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According to the CDC, a Q fever vaccine has been developed in Australia and used successfully to protect people in occupational settings. It is not available in the U.S. Besides, despite its effectiveness, the vaccine has severe side effects that restricts its widespread use, Felgner said in the statement.

The program is an offshoot of a research hub dedicated to fighting bioterrorism threats and infectious diseases, which UC Irvine set up in 2005 with a $40 million grant from the NIAID. Meanwhile, Providence, RI-based EpiVax scooped up $5.2 million from the DOD last year to develop a new vaccine for Q fever.

- here's the statement

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