Celia Schiffer joins collaboration to develop avian flu vaccine

By: Jim Fessenden/ UMass Medical School Communications

A picture of Dr. Celia Schiffer

Celia A. Schiffer, PhD, professor of biochemistry & molecular pharmacology and director of the Institute for Drug Resistance at UMass Medical School, is taking part in a $5.8 million National Institutes of Health-funded collaboration to develop a protective vaccine against avian influenza A. The collaboration is led by EpiVax, Inc., a leader in the field of immune engineering.

First identified in a human in 2013, avian influenza A, also known as H7N9 for the particular surface protein signature, is a strain of flu that typically circulates among poultry. Occasionally, the H7N9 virus will infect a human. As of Oct. 26, the World Health Organization has reported a total of 1,564 human H7N9 infections, with a 40 percent mortality rate. While mutations that would enable sustained human-to-human transmission by H7N9 have not yet occurred, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention placed the virus at the top of the risk scale for both emergence and potential for significant pandemic impact should human-to-human transmission happen.

An expert in structural biology, Dr. Schiffer and colleague Nese Kurt Yilmaz, PhD, assistant professor of biochemistry & molecular pharmacology, will work with scientists with a wide range of influenza expertise across immunology, vaccinology, structural biology, bioinformatics, animal infection models and vaccine manufacturing at EpiVax, Sanofi Pasteur and the University of Georgia to develop a new vaccine capable of eliciting an immune response strong enough to protect humans from a new, high-mortality, avian influenza.

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About Dr. Celia Schiffer: https://umassmed.edu/schifferlab