APL-led team seeks better understanding of how viruses mutate

Findings may help researchers stay ahead of potential pandemics

A new project co-led by scientists from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and Harvard University seeks to transform vaccine and drug development by figuring out methods to predict how—and how fast—viruses might mutate.

Viruses like influenza A (H1N1) virus, which was responsible for the 2009 flu pandemic, tend to morph quickly to avoid attacks by vaccines and immune systems. The goal of the program, called Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Prophecy, is to help researchers stay ahead of potential pandemics by better understanding how diseases change.

"The current approach to dealing with viruses is reactive," explains Andrew Feldman, DARPA Prophecy project manager and principal investigator in APL's Research and Exploratory Development Department. "Existing vaccines and therapies are designed to protect against viruses that are already out there, and new vaccines take years to develop. But we are trying to get out in front of emerging diseases by predicting how viruses evolve."

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