Combining Forces in the Biodefense Battle

October 1, 2003

From the threats of SARS to bioterrorism-by-smallpox, the world's population has become far more vulnerable in recent years to deadly attacks by marauding microbes. Reasoning that the nation's medical centers offer an invaluable brain trust for combating such threats, two federal agencies--the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Department of Health and Human Services--have funded eight regional centers to meet the challenges of bioterrorism and emerging infectious diseases.

Duke Medical Center will be one of six members of the Southeast Regional Center of Excellence for Emerging Infections and Biodefense (SERCEB). Other consortium members are Emory University, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the University of Florida, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Vanderbilt University.

The consortium--funded at $45 million over five years--will work to develop the next generation of vaccines, drugs, and diagnostic tests against emerging infections, and to defend against organisms that might be used in bioterrorist attacks.

The consortium will be centered at Duke and led by Barton Haynes of the Duke Human Vaccine Institute. Besides the six academic participants, the consortium will collaborate with such government and academic partners as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Initially, the consortium will focus on developing new vaccines, diagnostics, and treatments for orthopox viruses (including smallpox and monkeypox), Bacillus anthracis (anthrax), and Y. pestis, the bacterium that causes plague.

Says Haynes, "This is an important step in defending our country against both a wide variety of emerging infections and a potential bioterror attack. 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, 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."