Finberg explains flu vaccine advance to Globe

By Jim Fessenden

UMass Medical School Communications

May 16, 2013

Internationally recognized viruses expert Robert W. Finberg, MD, spoke to the Boston Globe about a new study that details an innovative method of using the genetic code of a flu virus to design its vaccine.

Researchers from Novartis showed they can manufacture an influenza gene quickly and accurately, instead of having to wait weeks for the actual virus strain to be shipped from wherever it has broken out. While the sequencing technology is not groundbreaking, the way the researchers have used it is powerful and innovative, according to Dr. Finberg, the Richard M. Haidack Professor of Medicine and chair and professor of medicine at UMass Medical School.

“It’s a technical advance, it isn’t a conceptual advance,” Finberg told the Globe. “I think it does have great potential for more rapidly preparing vaccines for new strains as they evolve.”

It is a major advance in the field of synthetic biology, where until now, synthesizing a gene has been a cumbersome and repetitive process, requiring rounds of cloning and sequencing to improve accuracy.

Finberg is lead investigator on a $12 million project to develop new ways of predicting how the influenza virus changes and evolves in response to anti-viral drugs and the human immune system. This approach has promise for becoming a pivotal tool in creating a more effective vaccine against the virus. Seeking to develop new technologies to predict natural viral evolution, the project is funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the research arm of the U.S. Department of Defense, through its Prophecy Program.

Read the full Globe story here: