From Flu to Smallpox, URMC Clinical Trials Lead the Way to Vaccines

Jun. 9, 2016

The Vaccine Research Unit at the University of Rochester Medical Center began conducting vaccine trials in the 1970s and they haven’t stopped. The unit conducts large (up to 20 people) isolation studies to test the effectiveness of live-virus vaccines and enrolls an estimated 100 to 200 participants in clinical trials each year. Glass vials

Here are a few of the infectious threats that the Vaccine Research Unit team, led by John J. Treanor, M.D., chief of Infectious Diseases at UR Medicine’s Strong Memorial Hospital, has tackled in the past:

  • Smallpox and anthrax: After 9/11, when bioterrorism concerns were front-and-center, the Vaccine Research Unit conducted trials of vaccines for anthrax and smallpox.
  • Seasonal flu: Phase I, II and III clinical trials of the nasal spray vaccine FluMist—a popular option for seasonal flu, since it eliminates a shot—were done by the unit.
  • HPV (human papillomavirus): Multiple clinical trials of the HPV vaccine—the first-ever cancer vaccine—as well as the basic research that led to the development of the vaccine, took place at URMC.
  • Shingles: The shingles vaccine was approved for adults 60 years and older following trials coordinated by Treanor’s team. 

Currently, the group is focusing on:chickens

  • Pandemic bird flu: Because of the possibility that viruses that infect chickens and other fowl could change and gain the ability to spread easily between people, trials of vaccines for various bird flu strains, like the H7N9 virus that continues to persist in China, are ongoing.
  • Norovirus: Also known as the “cruise ship virus,” norovirus is one of the main causes of gastrointestinal illness. No licensed vaccine exists, but several candidates are under development and in safety and efficacy trials in the Vaccine Research Unit.

“Clinical research conducted at the University of Rochester Medical Center has been instrumental in licensing new flu vaccines and the first and only vaccine to prevent cancer,” said Treanor. “We want to continue that tradition with the next wave of new vaccines and therapies. The participation of the Rochester community has and will continue to be a key factor in our success.”

The Vaccine Research Unit team actively recruits potential trial participants all year long and participants are paid for time and travel. If you’re interested in participating in a vaccine trial, call (585) 273-3990.

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The University of Rochester Medical Center is home to approximately 3,000 individuals who conduct research on everything from cancer and heart disease to Parkinson’s, pandemic influenza, and autism. Spread across many centers, institutes, and labs, our scientists have developed therapies that have improved human health locally, in the region, and across the globe. To learn more, visit