September 15, 2003

Emory chosen for $45M biodefense consortium

Holly Korschun

Emory is part of a six-university consortium named to lead a new biodefense initiative developing the next generation of vaccines, drugs and diagnostic tests against emerging infections such as SARS, and for defense against organisms such as smallpox that might be used in bioterrorist attacks.

The Southeast Regional Center of Excellence for Emerging Infections and Biodefense (SERCEB) will include researchers from Emory, Duke University Medical Center, University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), University of Florida (UF), University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, and Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

The consortium will be centered at Duke and led by Barton Haynes of the Duke Human Vaccine Institute. Its co-leaders are David Stephens, professor of medicine at Emory; UAB’s Richard Whitley; Richard Moyer from UF; Frederick Sparling at UNC; and Vanderbilt’s Mark Denison.

“This is an important step in defending our country against both a wide variety of emerging infections and a potential bioterror attack,” Haynes said. “Over the past year, we have seen natural outbreaks of SARS, West Nile virus and monkeypox that were not anticipated. SERCEB investigators hope to develop general strategies that can help protect the public not only from potential bioterrorist agents such as smallpox, plague and anthrax, but also from naturally occurring emerging infections that so frequently jump from animals to man.”

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Department of Health and Human Services announced more than $45 million in funding over five years for SERCEB, one of eight “Regional Centers of Excellence for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases Research.”

The centers will develop programs of basic and applied research; train researchers and other personnel for emerging infection and biodefense research activities; and develop and maintain comprehensive scientific core facilities to support their research and training activities.

The Woodruff Health Sciences Center anticipates receiving approximately
$12 million over five years as part of the SERCEB funding. Research programs at Emory will include scientists in the School of Medicine, the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, the Emory Vaccine Center and the Rollins School of Public Health, and collaborations with the CDC.

SERCEB also will maintain and make available core facilities and other support to approved investigators from academia, industry and government agencies. These investigators will be able to perform basic research and test and evaluate vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics for emerging infections and select agents.

The consortium’s initial work will focus on developing new vaccines, diagnostics and treatments for orthopoxviruses (including smallpox and monkeypox), Bacillus anthracis (anthrax) and Y. pestis, the bacteria that causes plague.

Research is targeted to begin this fall at the six SERCEB member institutions. Government partners with the SERCEB teams will include the CDC, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the National Institutes of Health. In addition, research team members from the University of Michi-gan, Southern Research Institute, Yerkes and Tulane University Primate Center will collaborate with SERCEB investigators.

“SERCEB includes some of the most outstanding investigators in immunology and infectious diseases in the United States,” Haynes said. “Each member institution has enormous resources. We believe that by working synergistically in this virtual center, we can address difficult problems in ways we could not address them before—and with speed that will rapidly benefit the public. This funding will allow us to carry out unprecedented research in a collaborative manner.”

“Emory is excited to play an important role in this new NIH-funded regional center,” Stephens said. “The goals of SERCEB are to develop new vaccines, drugs and diagnostics for biological threats. Education and training in infectious diseases and biologic threats also will be an important component of SERCEB, and Emory will play a leadership position in this area. Emory, Atlanta and the partners of SERCEB are uniquely positioned to contribute to this critical national effort.”

“[Yerkes], in partnership with [Tulane], will provide a critical component of this collaboration—that being the Nonhuman Primate Animal Core within the regional center,” said Yerkes Director Stuart Zola, the core’s primary investigator. “Our goal is to provide highly integrated support, animal expertise, clinical management, comprehensive clinical care and laboratory data using nonhuman primate models. Our research will provide a critical step between mouse models and clinical trials in humans.”