Each year, depending on the weather and other factors, flu season shows up and sometimes it’s really bad and other times it’s not as widespread. The 2017-2018 season for influenza was one of the worst in recent memory. The official season, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), ran from October 1st, 2017 to May 19, 2018. It was a “high severity” season, with cases increasing in November and then hitting a period of high activity in January and February.
Cases remained elevated through March, with Influenza A(H3N2) viruses dominating most cases through February and influenza B viruses showing up more frequently from March onward. While most of the country is enjoying a warm summer now and memories of cold weather and influenza are in the past, the quest for a universal flu vaccine goes on. The problem, which happens every year, is that it’s difficult to create a vaccine that will cover every strain of flu. The CDC, along with epidemiologists all across the country try to predict which strains will be dominant and make a vaccine that covers most of them, but it’s often not possible.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has taken up the cause of finding a universal flu vaccine, that is, a shot that can protect against any kind of influenza. In 1918, the influenza pandemic in the United States was a devastating public health issue. Worldwide, there were 50 million deaths from the 1918 influenza season. To mark that anniversary, Bill and Melinda Gates, along with their foundation, have issued a Global Grand Challenge called the Universal Influenza Vaccine Development Grand Challenge. They are asking scientists all over the world to submit proposals to find a better way to fight influenza. They are looking specifically for three components. The goal is to investigate flu vaccines that are Antigen-centric and use “Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and/or Deep Learning” to understand the mechanics of influenza and how it spreads. They are also looking for host-centric approaches that can increase protection from the flu and possibly even provide lifelong immunity. Finally, they are looking at technology-centric approaches, that could include genetic engineering technologies.
Proposals submitted will be evaluated on these criteria and grants ranging from $250,000 to $2 million could be awarded. The foundation that Bill and his wife Melinda oversee has long been involved in the development of vaccines, for third world countries that don’t have access to vaccines as well for research into newer and better vaccines that cover more strains. Proposals were due to the foundation by June 22, 2018, and the goal is to have clinical trials beginning by 2021. On the website for the challenge, the goal is set forth as follows: It is envisaged that such a universal influenza vaccine would address the threat from both seasonal and pandemic influenza, thus alleviating the need for annual seasonal influenza vaccination campaigns, averting significant global morbidity and mortality, and better preparing the world for the next influenza pandemic.”
See the video below for more information on the challenge and what it could bring to fight against influenza. We might be in the midst of a glorious summer, but influenza can be deadly and winter is not far away.