PATH launches new vaccine research program for pandemic influenza

January 11, 2008 by PATH

Grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to accelerate development of innovative vaccine technologies

Eileen Quinn, 202.454.5055,

Seattle and Washington, DC, January 11, 2008—With global health leaders increasingly concerned about the near-term possibility of an influenza pandemic, PATH today announced a new program to support rapid development of vaccines to protect against a future outbreak that could swiftly spread around the globe in today’s highly mobile and connected world.

PATH will work with public- and private-sector partners to advance the development of new, safe, and effective influenza vaccines that can be produced quickly and economically in large quantities to combat a global influenza pandemic. The 42-month effort is supported by a US$39 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Influenza viruses are one of the major infectious disease threats to the human population.

The avian flu virus can be transmitted from birds to humans and has already killed more than two hundred people. If the avian flu evolves into a form that spreads efficiently from human to human, or a deadly flu strain emerges from the seasonal flu virus, a global pandemic could result, with the potential to kill an estimated 51 million to 81 million people.

“A global flu pandemic will require a global response. Effective, affordable vaccines must be made available throughout the world, including developing countries that could be on the front lines of the next pandemic,” notes Dr. Regina Rabinovich, director of Infectious Diseases Development for the Gates Foundation. “The rapid development, production, and distribution of pandemic influenza vaccines could potentially save millions of lives.”

“Many of today’s influenza vaccines are egg-based and difficult to quickly produce in massive quantities,” explains Dr. John Boslego, director of the vaccine development program for PATH. “If indeed avian flu becomes a pandemic strain, decimated poultry flocks could make vaccine supplies even more constrained—and even more unavailable to low-resource countries.”

Innovative, alternative vaccine strategies are needed that could produce much greater quantities of vaccine at a price affordable in developing countries. PATH will focus on four areas of innovation: live attenuated influenza vaccines, recombinant vaccine technology, peptide-based vaccines, and new adjuvants. Adjuvants are vaccine ingredients that help boost the immune response, potentially allowing vaccine supplies to stretch further. Deploying these technologies has strong potential to reduce the enormous gap between the 400 million doses of seasonal influenza vaccine produced each year and the up to14 billion doses that may be required to vaccinate the global population in the event of a pandemic.

“A pandemic may well originate in developing countries, whose governments do not yet have sufficient resources to respond,” cautions Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny, director of the World Health Organization’s Initiative for Vaccine Research. “New, affordable vaccines are urgently needed to protect developing-country populations and strengthen worldwide efforts to contain an outbreak.”

In addition to helping with pandemic preparedness, new vaccines could also address the high burden of annual or seasonal influenza, which is not well appreciated. A typical year’s seasonal influenza results in between three and five million cases of severe illness and up to 500,000 deaths worldwide. Increasing the affordability and availability of vaccines for annual influenza could yield substantial public health benefits.