Pennsylvania State Funding Supports Wistar Institute Vaccine Cente

Pennsylvania State Funding Supports Wistar Institute Vaccine Cente

May 30, 2007

(PHILADELPHIA – May 31, 2007) – In the first funding dedicated to a project of the Wistar Institute Vaccine Center, the Pennsylvania Department of Health has awarded a grant of $4.2 million to support Wistar’s development of a universal flu vaccine. The research will be conducted in partnership with organizations including the University of Pennsylvania, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and Temple University. The funding also will enable Wistar to partner with Lincoln University and Cheyney University to provide research training to undergraduate minority students and their instructors.

The funding, which will begin June 1 and extend for four years, includes support for research facilities, equipment, and supplies; internships for Lincoln and Cheyney students; and participation of Cheyney University faculty members and a program coordinator. The project will take place at the new Wistar Institute Vaccine Center, launched May 31.

Influenza viruses are associated with an estimated 200,000 hospitalizations and 36,000 deaths annually in the United States, as well as hundreds of thousands of deaths worldwide. Wistar researchers will work to create a universal vaccine that is effective against all strains of influenza.

The effort will be led by Vaccine Center founding director Hildegund C.J. Ertl, M.D., a viral immunologist with 20 years’ experience in vaccine development, and a team of other top Wistar researchers. “A universal influenza vaccine would allow us to guard against evolving strains, including the avian flu,” Ertl said. “It would also provide better protection for vulnerable populations, such as the elderly.”

Existing “flu” vaccines have to be redesigned annually to account for evolving variations of the virus and are not always effective. A universal vaccine would reduce the need for annual vaccination campaigns and protect against a flu pandemic, which occurs when a new strain of flu emerges that is both deadly and highly contagious. The 1918 “Spanish flu” pandemic killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide. Notably, a universal influenza vaccine would protect people from the avian influenza virus, as well as other emerging strains of flu.

Current flu vaccines target two prominent protein molecules on the surface of the influenza virus. Because these proteins mutate constantly, the vaccines must be redesigned and readministered regularly to remain effective – thus the need for an annual flu shot. The Wistar-led research team aims to create a novel universal flu vaccine that will induce broad protection, lasting year after year. To achieve this goal, the scientists will design, construct, and test prototype vaccines directed against viral proteins that are less prone to mutation than the two proteins targeted by current vaccines. Based on the same research, they will also develop a “cocktail” of antibodies against the flu virus to be given as an early treatment for flu infection.

In a program designed to stimulate students’ interest in biomedical research, selected Lincoln and Cheyney undergraduates will spend eight weeks in a Vaccine Center laboratory learning about vaccine research through hands-on experience and lectures. Students will conduct research projects under the supervision of scientific staff members and present the results of their work to other students and faculty.

Cheyney faculty members will work in the laboratory full-time for eight weeks during the summer, then spend 25 percent of their time there during the school year. They will receive hands-on training, helping to conduct research projects relevant to the center’s goals. The teachers will gain skills that will allow them to obtain independent funding and establish collaborative research projects at their university.

More information on the Wistar Institute Vaccine Center is available at www.wistar.org/vaccinecenter.

The Wistar Institute is an international leader in biomedical research, with special expertise in cancer research and vaccine development. Founded in 1892 as the first independent nonprofit biomedical research institute in the country, Wistar has long held the prestigious Cancer Center designation from the National Cancer Institute. In addition to developing several important vaccines, Wistar scientists have identified many cancer genes and developed monoclonal antibodies and other valuable research tools. Today, Wistar is home to eminent cancer researchers and pioneering scientists working on experimental vaccines against the world’s deadliest diseases. The Institute works actively to transfer its inventions to the commercial sector to ensure that research advances move from the laboratory to the clinic as quickly as possible.

The Wistar Institute: Today’s Discoveries – Tomorrow’s Cures. On the web at www.wistar.org.

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