$35 Million Project Led By San Diego Researcher Will Target Deadly Viruses
La Jolla Institute for Immunology professor Erica Ollmann Saphire, Ph.D., is leading a $35 million global effort to find treatments for viral threats, including Ebola, Lassa and mosquito-borne diseases.
Olmann Saphire’s Viral Immunotherapeutic Consortium project, made up of nearly 200 researchers from 19 institutes around the world, is receiving the funding through the Centers of Excellence for Translational Research program with the National Institutes of Health.
“I founded the consortium in 2013 when it became clear that what we understood by studying things in test tubes wasn’t adequately predicting what would protect living things,” she said. “We’re going to figure out how the immune system can protect against these viruses, make molecules that will inspire that protection and push them forward to clinic.”
She said her team will study disease survivors and how their antibodies naturally fend off infection.
“Not only figure out how to target these viruses, but how to enlist the power of your own immune system to clear those infections from the cell,” she explained. “We think that’s critically important because there are a lot of things in common there with every other virus you’re infected with, and also cancer, and everything else your immune system fights.”
Ollmann Saphire said the resurgence of the Ebola and Lassa viruses, and the growing threat of mosquito-borne diseases, also called alphaviruses, has increased the global urgency for treatments.
“The ebola outbreak isn’t stopping,” she warned. “It’s up to 1,900 cases now, and when every clinic is attacked and given the amount of unrest and distrust in the area, that’s going to continue. But Lassa infects hundreds of thousands of people every year, and these alphaviruses are spread by mosquitoes with millions susceptible. So because it’s a mosquito borne virus really, no one’s safe.”