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Johns Hopkins Receives NIH Contract for up to $76M to Research, Track Influenza Viruses

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – Johns Hopkins University today announced a contract from the National Institutes of Health to create a center focused on developing methods, including the use of genomic technologies, to identify and track global influenza outbreaks.

The funding from NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases will establish Johns Hopkins as one of five US institutions to be part of the Centers of Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance. The other four are Emory University, the Carl Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai, St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital, and the University of Rochester.

A spokesman for Johns Hopkins said the contract is for seven years. The base amount is $16 million, but "depending on which project options the government selects, [the] entire value could run as high as $76 million over the seven years," he said.

One goal of Johns Hopkins is to identify new influenza virus strains that could become the next seasonal influenza or global pandemic, the university said. Researchers will track human influenza strains in the US and Taiwan and build a database of influenza cases in real time from hospitals and other healthcare facilities. The data will be stored in a central, cloud-based computer network that will be accessible to researchers across the CEIRS network, the university said.

Additionally, Johns Hopkins researchers will analyze the genetic characteristics of influenza viruses and sequence the viruses collected for the database.

Other projects include the use of human cell cultures to determine the likelihood that an influenza virus may infect humans; the use of computer modeling to assess public health intervention strategies to slow or mitigate emerging pandemics; the use of global modeling to evaluate the geographical risk for an epidemic or pandemic; and the development of response training programs for medical support and virus surveillance for a pandemic.

Richard Rothman and Andrew Pekosz are the co-directors of the new center. Rothman is a professor and vice chair of research at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine's department of emergency medicine. Pekosz is an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Among the potential benefits of the research, Pekosz said, is the development of better vaccines to protect against circulating seasonal strains. Also, it could provide public health agencies and drug makers more time to prepare for a potential emerging pandemic, he added.