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Researchers working towards getting a universal flu vaccine are now a happy lot following a pledge by billionaire and philanthropist Bill Gates towards their research work. 2018 has seen quite a devastating flu season, and the quest to get a vaccine for the broad range of the flu virus has never seemed more urgent.

The donation from Gates will comes in two parts, half from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation while the other half from the family of Google co-founder Larry Page. The money will also be issued out in trenches of up to $2 million for the individual research projects “that are bold and innovative.” Though the $12 million boost is highly welcome, stakeholders are already questioning if it will be enough.

The big idea is that the $2 million trench paid out over a spread of two years would be enough to support research in collecting preliminary data in animal models. From there, only the most promising strategies would be granted paycheck of up to $10 million. Such strategies could be a step in the research where the scientists want to take a trial-vaccine to human trials stage.

The Bill & Melinda Foundation is already looking for proposals that could be ready for clinical trials by 2021. The big question remains; is $12 million enough for meaningful research?

According to a publication by Bloomberg, the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Disease spent up to $64 million on universal flu research back in 2017. The $12 million could be a bucket-pour of water in a lake of funding needed to come up with the flu vaccine.

Some stakeholders are questioning the path taken by the Foundation to call for proposal. As there are plenty of promising candidates at the start line, but very few will ever reach the clinical trials; and sometimes what makes the difference between on research path and the other, is who secures funding to proceed to the expensive human trial stage.

The real bottleneck is getting these experimental vaccines into testing in humans, and that is a very expensive undertaking,” explains Sarah Gilbert, a vaccine researcher.

It is important to note that the Foundation has been funding Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in their efforts to take universal flu vaccine to the human trials stage. The Foundation has given Mount Sinai funding of over $9.5 million.

Paul Radspinner, the President, and CEO of FluGen, a company working on a candidate universal flu vaccine using genetically modified flu virus said the funding from the Foundation, though small is highly welcome.

Having the Gates Foundation throw its weight behind the search for a universal flu vaccine is fantastic news.” Said Radspinner in an email to The Verge.

“We’re not concerned about the size of the investment as I’m sure this is just the first of many announcements by the Foundation about how they will play a significant role in this area.”

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