The flu hit Georgia hard this season.

Influenza was associated with 140 deaths—four of them pediatric—as of late March, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. Future flu seasons may be less deadly, though, because the University of Georgia’s Ted Ross is working to build a better flu vaccine.

Ross, director of the Center for Vaccines and Immunology, is collaborating with Sanofi Pasteur—the world’s largest manufacturer of seasonal influenza vaccines—to fill this pressing need.

The flu vaccine remains the best method to prevent illness from influenza, but its effectiveness can vary from year to year. This is primarily because the six months required for manufacturing gives the virus time to mutate. This season’s vaccine had an estimated overall effectiveness of 36 percent, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ross envisions creating a broadly protective vaccine, one that will protect against any mutated version of the virus.

His multiyear collaboration with Sanofi Pasteur has been fruitful. In 2017, they published findings of a broadly protective influenza vaccine that protects against multiple strains of H3N2 influenza. H3N2 is the most predominant seasonal flu in circulation.

“We are looking forward to working with Sanofi Pasteur to evaluate these vaccines in the clinic,” said Ross, Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar of Infectious Diseases.

Recently they have been gathering data on how a person’s immune history to influenza affects their response to today’s licensed flu vaccines.

“It’s very clear from our research with Dr. Ross that exposure to the flu virus and the vaccine influences how people can respond to the vaccine,” said Harry Kleanthous, head of the Science & Innovation Office of FluNXT within Sanofi Pasteur. “A child who has never been exposed to flu is likely to respond differently than someone who has been vaccinated throughout their life and whose influenza immune history is very well established.”

Their innovative collaboration is drawing attention.

In February, Ross and Kleanthous accepted the Phoenix Award, given jointly to CVI and Sanofi Pasteur from Georgia Bio, the association for Georgia’s life sciences industry. The award recognizes those who have forged academic and industry relationships that drive translation and lead to new treatments and cures.

“This is a true research collaboration on a very complex topic,” Kleanthous said. “We’re answering fundamental research questions that will show us how to develop the next generation of influenza vaccines.”