The Institute for Protein Design at the University of Washington School of Medicine has announced an $11.3 million grant from the Open Philanthropy Project in support of efforts to develop a universal flu vaccine.
The grant includes $5.6 million to refine and improve Rosetta, a software platform for protein design developed by institute director David Baker and his team, with the goal of boosting the institute's ability to design proteins on computers, test them in the lab, and iterate the process at scale. The remaining $5.7 million will support an institute program to design flu vaccine candidates that provide lasting protection against multiple virus strains — including those with the potential to cause pandemics — based on a self-assembling protein nanoparticle technology developed by Baker and assistant professor Neil King. The goal is to design a nanoparticle vaccine that can trigger an effective immune response to multiple existing and new flu strains so it would only need to be administered once every five years, ending the need for annual vaccinations.
"This gift is speeding up a technological revolution in how we design proteins," said Baker. "Our team can now custom design proteins from scratch, creating entirely novel molecules that can be used for new treatments, new diagnostics, and new biomaterials."
"We're excited to help move science forward in ways not seen before with proteins, which are essential to life. This grant recognizes that UW Medicine is at the forefront of unlocking the keys to the use of proteins in medical settings," said Chris Somerville, a program officer for scientific research at the Open Philanthropy Project. "The universal flu vaccine is a tough nut to crack, but David Baker has shown the ability to pioneer life-changing scientific research. It's exciting that whether a universal flu vaccine is developed or not, this gift will build techniques and technologies that will advance science and have a huge variety of implications in medicine and industry."