Public Release: 

Regional consortium of universities chosen for biodefense initiative

Six universities will comprise Southeastern Regional Center of Excellence for Emerging Infections and Biodefense

Duke University Medical Center

DURHAM, NC - A consortium of investigators from six regional universities has been chosen to be part of a new biodefense initiative that will work to develop 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 Duke University Medical Center, Emory University, University of Alabama at Birmingham, University of Florida, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, and Vanderbilt University Medical Center. The consortium will be centered at Duke and led by Barton Haynes, M.D., of the Duke Human Vaccine Institute. Its co-leaders are David Stephens, M.D., Emory University; Richard Whitley, M.D., UAB; Richard Moyer, Ph.D., University of Florida; Frederick Sparling, M.D., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine; and Mark Denison, M.D., Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

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

SERCEB will also maintain and make available core facilities and other support to approved investigators from academia, industry and government agencies in the region. 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 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and the NIH. In addition, research team members from the University of Michigan, Southern Research Institute, the Yerkes National Primate Research Center of Emory University and Tulane University Primate Center will collaborate with SERCEB investigators.

Speaking on behalf of the group, Haynes noted, "We have organized a SERCEB research staff with new and powerful collaborative teams that cross institutions. The SERCEB includes some of the most outstanding investigators in immunology and infectious diseases in the United States. 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 before, and with speed that will rapidly benefit the public. This funding will allow us to carry out unprecedented research in a collaborative manner."

SERCEB will develop new vaccines to prevent emerging infections and new drugs to treat infections for which current treatments may not be optimal.

"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. SERCEB has organized a full continuum of resources, from basic scientists to those who can carry out clinical trials of developed vaccines and drugs. Our goal is to produce advances that will benefit the public as rapidly as possible."

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