PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — With support from a three-year $2.1 million agreement with Insight Therapeutics, a private company that focuses on the health care of older adults, a team of Brown University public health researchers will look to identify the most effective flu vaccines for elderly nursing home residents.
As people get older, the risk of developing serious flu-related complications increases. Of the tens of thousands of U.S. residents who die from influenza each year, some 80 to 90% are age 65 or older, said Stefan Gravenstein, principal investigator of the research at Brown, a professor of medicine at the Warren Alpert Medical School and of health services, policy and practice at the School of Public Health.
Gravenstein said the study will compare two licensed, safe and effective vaccines — an egg-free recombinant flu vaccine and a traditional flu vaccine where seasonal influenza viruses are mass-produced in chicken eggs and then inactivated — in up to 1,000 nursing homes each in this and the next flu season.
“Nursing homes are a particularly useful environment to conduct research because the people there are older and more vulnerable,” Gravenstein said. “When you have something that is out there for public use, like all of the vaccines involved in our studies, it’s important to figure out which interventions help this especially frail population most in clinically meaningful ways, such as keeping them out of the hospital.”
A recombinant vaccine is made up of just specific influenza proteins that trigger an immune response and can be mass-produced in lab-grown cells. Gravenstein said the team will test the hypothesis that the recombinant vaccine will be more effective at protecting residents with these specific proteins than the larger variety of proteins in vaccines produced in chicken eggs.
The agreement is a part of a partnership between Brown and Insight Therapeutics — a Virginia-based company that specializes in clinical research involving older adults as well as professional medical education and health communications — and Sanofi Pasteur, a French pharmaceutical company that produces vaccines against infectious diseases such as influenza, tetanus and rabies.
The sponsored research partnership comes as Brown continues to expand its relationships with corporate and industry partners through its Office of Industry Engagement and Commercial Venturing.
Jill Pipher, vice president for research at Brown and professor of mathematics, said it reflects Brown’s broader dedication to advancing relationships with private industry.
“This research agreement with Insight Therapeutics to improve health care is a substantial contribution to Brown's efforts to tackle the urgent problems of society through faculty discoveries,” Pipher said. “The project is also an important part of Brown’s commitment to increase its work with private industry, as well as with public and nonprofit partners, to build significant commercial endeavors that address real-world issues.”
Brown’s other initiatives to create new collaborations include the newly launched riHub accelerator based in Providence and the Brown Biomedical Innovations to Impact fund, which supports the development of biomedical technologies into commercial products.