Tuesday, May 19, 2009

New Global Vaccine Center Partnership, Center for Drug Discovery Coming to Georgia

Emory University-Queensland Institute partnership to develop new human vaccines;
World-renowned researcher to lead new Emory Institute for Drug Discovery

Governor Sonny Perdue announced today that two of the world’s leading vaccine research centers will combine their expertise to establish an international research program leading to the development of new human vaccines for infectious diseases and cancers.

The Emory Vaccine Center (EVC) will collaborate with the Australian Centre for Vaccine Development (ACVD) at the Queensland Institute for Medical Research (QIMR) in a new Queensland-U.S. Vaccine Technology Alliance funded in part by a three-year grant from the Smart Futures Fund of the Queensland National and International Research Alliance.

In addition, Governor Perdue announced that Emory University will establish a new Emory Institute for Drug Discovery (EIDD) focusing on commercially neglected diseases, global health partnerships and mentored research. The center will be led by internationally recognized scientist and entrepreneur Dennis Liotta, PhD, who co-invented drugs taken by more than 94 percent of HIV/AIDS patients in the U.S.

“These two groundbreaking initiatives by one of Georgia’s top-ranked universities reflect the exciting biomedical advances that thrive in our state,” said Governor Perdue. “Our business environment invites the kind of entrepreneurial innovation and global partnerships that will lead to the medical breakthroughs of the future.”

The Governor made the announcement with Emory officials during a press conference in the Georgia Pavilion at the 2009 BIO International Convention, the world’s largest gathering of the global biotechnology community. The convention is being held in Atlanta May 18 through May 21, its first-ever meeting in the southeastern United States.

“This exciting global partnership with Queensland and the Emory Vaccine Center, together with the new Institute for Drug Discovery, continue to strengthen Emory University’s depth of research capabilities and its impact on global health,” said James Wagner, president of Emory University.

The Emory Vaccine Center of Emory University is one of the largest academic vaccine centers in the world, renowned for its expertise in cellular immunity, immune memory, disease pathogenesis, vaccine research and development and clinical trials. The Australian Centre for Vaccine Development is an internationally recognized vaccine research center with expertise in antigen discovery, international and national grants and links with the biotech industry.

The Queensland-U.S. Vaccine Technology Alliance recently was awarded a three-year grant of $1.8M from the Smart Futures Fund of the Queensland National and International Research Alliances Program. Additional funding for the alliance will be provided by the two vaccine centers, with total project funding from all sources equaling $8.5M over three years. In addition, ACVD and EVC have an existing Memorandum of Understanding that allows academic exchange to further promote scientific research in the field of vaccine development. Over the past 12 months, through a joint funding program, the EVC has hosted ACVD scientists for advanced training in vaccine technologies.

“Despite our success in developing vaccines, many challenges remain in the fight against chronic infections and cancer,” said The Hon. Stephen Robertson MP, Queensland Minister for Natural Resources, Mines and Energy and Minister for Trade. “This project will combine expertise from two leading vaccine research organizations in a collaboration that will uncover new technologies for developing and improving vaccines. Both organizations have strong links with the biotech industry and health institutions, which will help bring the research from bench to bedside, improving outcomes for patients.”

The new funding from the National and International Research Alliances program will significantly enhance the two vaccine centers’ collaborative research programs and allow them to leverage funding from various agencies and foundations for large-scale vaccine research and development. The alliance also will provide ACVD scientists an opportunity to access new biotech industry links in the United States and give both institutions enhanced links with the international pharmaceutical industry.

The new Emory Institute for Drug Discovery will have the dual mission of carrying out early-stage discovery and pre-clinical drug research aimed at developing small-molecule therapeutics, and training new generations of researchers in a multidisciplinary drug discovery environment. Directed and staffed by recognized leaders in the field of drug discovery, the EIDD will build on Emory’s strong history of drug discovery research, including the invention of several of the world’s most successful and widely prescribed drugs for treating HIV/AIDS.

“We believe the EIDD is strategically positioned to make Emory one of the premier research and training institutions in the country for drug discovery, development and training,” said Dennis Liotta, PhD, Emory professor of chemistry and director of the EIDD. “Our EIDD model will preserve the academic independence of university-based laboratory research, while at the same time allowing us opportunities to closely partner with the pharmaceutical industry.”

As a co-inventor of drugs taken by more than 94 percent of patients in the U.S. with HIV/AIDS and by thousands around the globe, Liotta is a recognized leader and educator in university drug discovery. He also is a successful entrepreneur who has developed several biotechnology companies, and he has trained and mentored numerous young researchers in the science of drug discovery.

The EIDD will collaborate closely with and benefit from other drug discovery efforts already ongoing at Emory, including the Emory Chemical Biology Discovery Center, which is part of the National Institutes of Health Molecular Libraries Screening Center Network (MLSCN). Along with other scientists at Emory already focused on drug discovery, approximately 12 new research faculty will focus their efforts in the center. Eventually, approximately 30 faculty and staff will be part of the EIDD.
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