In January, the CDC reported that 30 children had died from the flu, and over 74,000 people had contracted the potentially fatal illness this season. Additionally, this year’s flu vaccine was only 36 percent effective. As a result, the search for a universal flu vaccine became more important. On Friday, Bill Gates pledged $12 million dollars to help researchers come up with innovative new ways to engineer a universal vaccine, which STAT News calls “the holy grail of flu research.”
“We think a universal flu vaccine would not only eliminate the pandemic risk, but would have significant health benefits,” Gates told STAT. “It would be a fantastic thing.” Gates announced the multi-million dollar funding at a symposium on epidemics organized by the Massachusetts Medical Society and the New England Journal of Medicine.
$12 million is a very healthy sum of money, but it won’t all be donated at once—and it may not even be enough to develop a new vaccine. Half of the money would come from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, while the other half would be from the family of Google co-founder Larry page, The Verge reports. The money is reserved for “bold and innovative” projects. Researchers would receive an initial $2 million to begin their study, and they can apply for a further $10. Gates is looking for proposals that could start as early as 2021.
As STAT points out, the generally expected cost of developing a new vaccine is closer to $1 billion. Even so, a universal flu vaccine, which would target multiple fast-evolving flu viruses, might cost even more than that.
“This is the early-stage money,” Gates said when he announced the funding. “This $12 million isn’t the end of the game.”