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Bill Gates pledges $12 Billion to fund research for Universal flu vaccine

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Bill Gates is leading a push to develop a universal flu vaccine with a pledge of $12 million, the Verge reports.

The Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist announced Friday that the Gates Foundation is offering $12 million to sponsor fresh research for a universal flu vaccine. The funding page, Global Grand Challenge reports that Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the family of Larry Page (Google co-founder) are funding the project together, with each providing up to half of the money pledged.

Bill Gates is optimistic that the research project would revolutionize vaccination for influenza, rendering the virus less potent as a threat, all year round even at flu pandemics. However, the funding provided so far looks like part of the expected cost of developing a universal vaccine, which would administer durable protection against all spectrums of the flu viruses.

“We think a universal flu vaccine would not only eliminate the pandemic risk but would have significant health benefits,” said Gates in an interview at a symposium on epidemics where he announced the funding, according to STAT. “It would be a fantastic thing.”

The project was launched during the year of the 1918 Spanish flu that killed more than 50 million people, the worst pandemic recorded so far. Gates warned that despite how advanced our medical research has gone in this century, such severe pandemic would kill at least 33 million people within six months if experienced today.

The foundation which hopes to change the existing influenza vaccines completely says that its self-funded experimental vaccines would be ready in 2021 for test on people.

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The fund will be released through Global Grand Challenge, a tool developed to beguile qualitative thinking about unrelenting challenges. Individual awards in the pilot phase will be $250,000 up to $2 million, paid over a period of two years. If one or two pilot projects show promising proof-of-concept data such as in animal models, the group will be eligible to apply for a full award which is up to $10 million, which is only available for clinical and fund IND-enabling studies.

“This is the early-stage money,” said Gates. “This $12 million isn’t the end of the game.”

The intricacies involved in developing a vaccine that can provide protection in a wide spectrum of flu virus which is fast-evolving suggests that the estimated fund may be low. However, STAT says it is very practical that creating a new vaccine would cost about $1 billion. And recently, many have shown interest in funding a research for a universal flu vaccine, with legislation introduced by senators to oversee a five-year provision of $1 billion to fund the project. This has no feasible prospects for now as the bill is still under a review.

Though a universal flu vaccine is supposed to protect against all flu types, some medical experts have described the term as a next-generation vaccine, based on the scope of the challenge. Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, earlier this year told STAT that a universal influenza vaccine may be unattainable. But Gates in response to Fauci’s statement said “He’s very good about not overpromising.’’

“We’ll see what comes out of the woodwork. Sometimes, we’re disappointed.” Gates said “We do these calls for applications many, many times a year, sometimes under the Grand Challenges format, sometimes just a disease-specific thing. And sometimes you don’t get many applications, sometimes, you get a huge number.”

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