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Ohio Company Raises $7 Million To Develop Universal Flu Vaccine

Nurse Nicole Simpson prepares a flu shot at the Salvation Army in Atlanta on Feb. 7, 2018.
David Goldman
Nurse Nicole Simpson prepares a flu shot at the Salvation Army in Atlanta on Feb. 7, 2018.

Blue Water Vaccines, based in Norwood, has scheduled clinical trials for 2020 involving a universal flu vaccine it's developing. The company closed Tuesday on $7 million worth of funding led by CincyTech.

Using mathematical models developed by a scientist at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, Blue Water CEO Joseph Hernandez says the company has proven in theory that its vaccine will protect people from all strains of the flu with one pill during their lifetime.

"We have a little bit of work before we can actually expose humans to the vaccine and that's what this financing does for us,” Hernandez says. “It allows us to get the important toxicology and pre-clinical work that we need done.”

Hernandez says the seasonal flu vaccine is based on arcane technology and only protects about 30-50% of the people who get it.

He praises the mathematician who developed the technology for Blue Water's universal flu vaccine. He says it protects against multiple strains.

"It should give you protection against all known strains of the virus, even going back to the 1934 and 1918 strains that were quite significant,” he says. “As you know, the Spanish flu wiped out almost half of Europe."

"The team at Blue Water Vaccines is pursuing the holy grail of vaccines: a universal flu vaccine," said Samuel Lee, director at CincyTech. "We are pleased to support a world class team towards achieving this breakthrough."

CincyTech CEO Mike Venerable acknowledges there are other drug companies working on a universal flu vaccine.

"This is not the only thing in the world that is being developed to do this but we are confident that we have great technology we're licensing,” Venerable says. “And we have good leadership and that we have vetted it appropriately."

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and BiondVax are also working on universal flu vaccines.

But CincyTech says Blue Water's technology is unique because its mathematical models "analyzes the way historic flu strains change over time led by the theory that the epidemic behavior of influenza is primarily determined by immune responses acting upon regions of the virus that are limited in variability."

Statistics show more than one billion people contract the flu each year causing 3-5 million hospitalizations and 500,000 deaths.

With more than 30 years of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market, Ann Thompson brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting. She has reported for WKRC, WCKY, WHIO-TV, Metro Networks and CBS/ABC Radio. Her work has been recognized by the Associated Press and the Society of Professional Journalists. In 2019 and 2011 A-P named her “Best Reporter” for large market radio in Ohio. She has won awards from the Association of Women in Communications and the Alliance for Women in Media. Ann reports regularly on science and technology in Focus on Technology.