Public Release:  NIH taps Saint Louis University as 1 of 9 Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Units

Contract opens bidding pool of nearly $1 billion to prepare for emerging threats

Saint Louis University

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IMAGE: Robert Belshe, M.D., Adorjan Professor of Internal Medicine at Saint Louis University, directs SLU's Center for Vaccine Development, which has received what is likely the largest research grant or contract... view more

Credit: Photo by Riya V. Anandwala

ST. LOUIS - Saint Louis University's Center for Vaccine Development is among an elite group of nine Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Units (VTEUs) selected by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to bid on up to nearly $1 billion in projects that will study protecting people from infectious diseases, including emerging threats.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which is part of the NIH, has funded vaccine research at SLU since 1989. The new contract, signed in September, represents what likely is the largest research contract or grant in the University's history.

"In awarding the contract, NIH officials are showing their continuing confidence in SLU as leaders in vaccine development research - in laboratory science and in clinical trial research," said Robert Belshe, M.D., director of the Center for Vaccine Development and the Adorjan Professor of Internal Medicine at SLU.

"It allows us to continue to bring to our community new vaccines that are in development - many of which will become the vaccines of the future."

SLU received an Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract award that has an estimated value of up to $135 million in task orders annually over the course of the seven year ordering period - or an estimated value of up to $951 million for the contract duration. This represents a change in the federal funding mechanism for vaccine research, said Belshe, who is principal investigator on the project.

In the IDIQ contract, only those centers accepted as VTEUs are qualified to bid on specific projects or "task orders," outlining how they would approach clinical research projects in areas where they have specialized expertise. VTEUs will be paid based upon the actual number of task orders for which they are selected.

Other VTEUs are Baylor College of Medicine, Houston; Children's Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati; Duke University, Durham, N.C.; Emory University, Atlanta; Group Health Cooperative, Seattle; University of Iowa, Iowa City; University of Maryland, Baltimore; and Vanderbilt University, Nashville. SLU's research will be supported by NIH contract HHSN272201300021.

"I am extremely proud that the NIH continues to recognize Saint Louis University's leadership role in research that protects the health of our nation," said Interim University President William R. Kauffman. "This contract affirms our growing national and international reputation as a major research institution, and the research it will fund is a significant example of the outstanding scholarship and scientific discovery taking place at Saint Louis University."

Daniel Hoft, M.D., Ph.D., director of Saint Louis University's division of infectious diseases, allergy and immunology, and Sharon Frey, M.D., professor of infectious diseases at SLU, will serve as co-principal investigators of SLU's VTEU, joined by research pharmacists Richard Nickel and Anna Schmidt, and clinic manager Karla Mosby.

Saint Louis University's ability to recruit quickly and effectively for clinical trials is a key to the success of its vaccine research, said Frey, who is the clinical director of SLU's Center for Vaccine Development.

"Those who work at SLU's Center for Vaccine Development are fiercely dedicated to our research and collaborate closely as a team on clinical trials," Frey said.

"However, we could never accomplish what we do without the behind the scenes support of many equally hardworking groups within the SLU community. And I can't express enough gratitude to our community volunteers for continuing to step forward, joining us in commitment to the search for vaccines that make everyone healthier."

Hoft, an internationally respected authority on tuberculosis and vaccine research, noted that SLU's substantial investment in state-of-the-art laboratory and clinical space in the $82 million Doisy Research Center has also greatly facilitated research conducted by SLU's Center for Vaccine Development.

"You can't work with highly infectious and potentially lethal agents in a traditional lab because of the biosafety risk," Hoft said. "However, at SLU, biosafety level 3 labs are specially engineered so we can safely work with infectious agents that could be deadly. This capability gives us an expanded realm to do lab studies for vaccine trials."

SLU also recently established a dedicated research pharmacy within the Center for Vaccine Development, and is partnering with the Aurum Institute for Health Research in Johannesburg, South Africa, so it has the ability to conduct international vaccine research to protect against global health threats including TB, Hoft said.

Philip Alderson, M.D., dean of SLU School of Medicine and vice president for medical affairs, said the new contract affirms SLU's contributions to vaccine development, which were praised by Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius at a University visit during the H1N1 pandemic in 2009.

"The continued funding is recognition of SLU's strength in the study of infectious diseases, which goes beyond the Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Unit," Alderson said. "We are a real hub of translational vaccine science -- translating discoveries about human pathogens made in basic science laboratories into clinical practices that have a dramatic impact on the health of people.

"With new diseases on the horizon every year that threaten global health, our work in protecting public health is critical," Alderson continued.

"The new contract provides SLU with an enormous chance to continue to contribute to improved human health in a meaningful way."

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About the Saint Louis University School of Medicine

Established in 1836, Saint Louis University School of Medicine has the distinction of awarding the first medical degree west of the Mississippi River. The school educates physicians and biomedical scientists, conducts medical research, and provides health care on a local, national and international level. Research at the school seeks new cures and treatments in five key areas: infectious disease, liver disease, cancer, heart/lung disease, and aging and brain disorders.

About Saint Louis University

Saint Louis University is a Catholic, Jesuit institution that values academic excellence, life-changing research, compassionate health care, and a strong commitment to faith and service. Founded in 1818, the University fosters the intellectual and character development of nearly 14,000 students on two campuses in St. Louis and Madrid, Spain. Building on a legacy of nearly 200 years, Saint Louis University continues to move forward with an unwavering commitment to a higher purpose, a greater good.

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