The University of Maryland School of Medicine Center for Vaccine Development (CVD) has been awarded a $22 million federal research contract to develop and test a wide range of new vaccines to protect public health in the United States and around the world.
Under the five-year contract, one of the largest in the School of Medicine's history, the CVD will evaluate vaccines against respiratory infections such as strep throat, diarrheal infections, meningitis, and malaria. The contract with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) will also support the testing of new vaccines against possible bioterror agents such as anthrax and smallpox. The University of Maryland is among a select group of seven Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Units (VETU) to be awarded new contracts by the NIAID.
A new anthrax vaccine expected to be tested by the VETU network uses genetic engineering techniques to create protective antigens. "The result is a pure protein that we believe is safer than the old vaccine," says James D. Campbell, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics, and CVD investigator. Because the antigens are produced genetically, there is no contact with the anthrax toxin. If effective, the new vaccine could provide protection with fewer doses and fewer side effects, simplify production, and ease concerns about the current supply.
"It is gratifying that our expertise is being utilized to the greatest degree possible, especially at such a difficult time in our country's history," says Myron Levine, M.D., D.T.P.H., director of the CVD, and the principal investigator for the new initiative. "The CVD is the only university vaccine center in the world engaged in the full range of vaccinology-from basic science to clinical evaluation, large-scale field studies and public policy," says Dr. Levine, who is also professor of medicine, pediatrics, epidemiology and preventive medicine, and microbiology and immunology at the School of Medicine. The contract includes an option for an additional $5.6 million for intensive evaluation of promising new vaccines to fight malaria.
The contract will also support smallpox vaccine research at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. "Ultimately, we want to help develop an improved vaccine that is less likely to cause side effects," says Robert Edelman, M.D., professor of medicine, associate director for clinical research at the CVD, and a lead investigator for the new NIH contract.
"NIAID-supported research will determine if the potency of the smallpox vaccine can be adjusted for children and older people who may be more susceptible to side effects," says Dr. Edelman. Earlier this year, the CVD participated in a landmark study that found the current supply of smallpox vaccine could be diluted to stretch the existing supply.
The new contract will require CVD researchers to test a variety of vaccines and develop the means to improve their effectiveness. This research will include intensive measurements of the immune response of adults, children, and the elderly to determine why some people respond well to vaccines and some do not.
CVD lead investigators for the grant also include Carol O. Tacket, M.D., professor of medicine, Karen L. Kotloff, M.D., professor of pediatrics.
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