UM scientists work to develop COVID-19 vaccine, receive $2.5M from NIH

MISSOULA – The University of Montana’s Center for Translational Medicine is working on a possible vaccine for COVID-19 right now.

To fund the fight against COVID-19, the National Institute of Health awarded UM’s department $2.5 million dollars. The principal investigator on the two-year award is Dr. Jay Evans, the center director and a research professor in UM’s Division of Biological Sciences.

“When the call came from NIH in February to shift focus and develop a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, we quickly adjusted lower priority vaccine projects to focus our efforts on this urgent need,” Evans said. “Our dedicated team of experienced researchers stepped up in the face of school closures, stay-at-home orders and social distancing to rapidly advance this vaccine and continue working on other essential research projects of critical importance to our community and the nation.”

Senator Steve Daines and UM President Seth Bodnar toured the facility to speak with scientists and gain an inside look of the kind of ground-breaking work happening in Missoula.

“It’s hard for people to believe that this global pandemic, our way out of it, a big part of that runs right through the University of Montana,” Bodnar said.

Daines has specifically made strides to see a COVID-19 vaccine developed in America and is pleased with the progress being made at UM.

“What we have going on at the University of Montana is a very special type of vaccine that provides better immunity and longer immunity than other vaccines and so this is a unique differentiator that’s being made right here in Montana that will have an impact on not only our country but potentially the entire world,” Daines said.

UM’s team has spent over 20 years improving vaccines by using adjuvants to improve immune response. They have also done extensive research into a universal flu vaccine as well as work on improving vaccines for tuberculosis, whooping cough, Lyme disease, E-coli, and opioid addiction.

“This is a made in America solution, this is a made in Montana solution and I’m very proud of that,” Daines said.