- Associated Press - Friday, August 15, 2014

(For use by New York Times News Service Clients)

c.2013 Houston Chronicle< GALVESTON - A University of Texas Medical Branch vaccine research center has been named a partner in the World Health Organization's efforts to develop vaccines for the world's deadliest diseases like Ebola, UTMB said Friday.

The Sealy Center for Vaccine Development became only the second university in the Western Hemisphere and among eight in the world to be designated as a WHO Collaborating Center for Vaccine Research, Evaluation and Training on Emerging Infectious Diseases.

”I think it’s very important,” said Alan Barrett, center director. “With only eight in the world it puts you in a very select group.”

The World Health Organization chose UTMB after a two-year vetting. The new designation means UTMB researchers will now be able to work with top international experts on vaccine research and development.

WHO consults only with its collaborating centers in its efforts to stem disease so its possible they will turn to UTMB researchers to deal with the largest Ebola outbreak ever recorded that is ravaging Africa, especially sense UTMB has some of the most renowned Ebola experts. UTMB also could be grappling with polio and other diseases that get much less publicity, Barrett said.

But exactly how UTMB will be assisting the health organization is still being discussed, said David Beasley, UTMB associate professor of microbiology and immunology. “In terms of specific disease targets, that’s something that is still in the development process,” Beasley said.

A team at the Galveston National Laboratory, which is part of the Sealy Vaccine Center and therefore the WHO Collaborating Center, is already evaluating methods for combating Ebola in infected patients through a $6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Defense Department.

One of the researchers at the National Laboratory, T.G. Ksiazek, a pathology professor at UTMB, is in the African country of Sierra Leone helping to arrange treatment for Ebola patients. Three of the most renowned Ebola experts, including Ksiazek, work at the National Laboratory. UTMB is the only university in the country with a working Level 4 laboratory, the rating given to labs that have sufficient safety measures to work with the most dangerous pathogens.

The Sealy Center for Vaccine Development is made up of researchers in 10 centers and institutions from 12 of UTMB’s departments, Barrett said.

The Sealy Center will also be known as the WHO Collaborating Center when working on projects for the international health organization.

As the WHO Collaborating Center, UTMB will analyze vaccines under development and decide how many are worth further investment of time and money, Barrett said.

The WHO Collaborating Center also will develop vaccines, taking them from development in the laboratory all the way to being licensed, a complicated process that can take as long as 20 years and cost $1 billion, he said.

Barrett compared the long development process to the current effort to develop a cure for Ebola, estimating that the government has spent about $200 million on the effort this year. “To expect to have a vaccine ready is unfair,” he said. “The expectations of the public are very high.”

Finally UTMB in its new role will help train graduate students, faculty and researchers. “Vaccine research has grown into its own science now,” Barrett said. “It’s not just making it in a test tube. It’s a lot more than that.” XXX - End of Story<3D>

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