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UM gets $4 million grant for vaccine

Researchers at the University of Maryland Center for Vaccine Development have received a $4 million grant from the Wellcome Trust to help develop a vaccine that prevents potentially lethal infectious diseases caused by salmonella, particularly fatal in young children.

The center, part of the university’s School of Medicine, was scheduled to receive the Strategic Translation Award from Wellcome Monday during the annual BIO 2012 Conference in Boston.

The research will support collaboration with India-based Bharat Biotech International Ltd. for clinical development of a vaccine to halt strains of non-typhoidal salmonella, which can result in systemic diseases such as meningitis or sepsis, reactions particularly common in sub-Saharan Africa, where approximately 20 to 30 percent of children with such invasive infections die.

“This project is a milestone for the University of Maryland, as it represents a true translational public-private partnership that not only enables potentially lifesaving vaccine technology to move towards the marketplace and to the public health arena, but also demonstrates the university’s ability to successfully undertake international multi-party technology transfer collaborations to help advance its science,” said Phil Robilotto, UM assistant vice president of technology transfer.

The grant will pay for a multiyear project to accelerate the development of the conjugate non-typhoidal salmonella vaccine, including initial clinical trials to be conducted at the UM campus in Baltimore beginning in three years.

“It’s an imprimatur,” said Myron “Mike” Levine, director of the UM center, “because of the prestige associated with the trust’s involvement, the rigorous vetting process and the opportunity for the University of Maryland, in collaboration with Bharat, to bring forth a potentially life-saving vaccine for a very underserved population.”

Much of the center’s mission is centered on infectious diseases that afflict children in less-developed countries, including infections that include cholera, typhoid fever, shigellosis and the various types of E. coli that cause diarrhea. The center has in the past tested vaccines against numerous bacterial diseases, such as measles, cholera and typhoid fever.

Researchers at the center sought to collaborate with the established vaccine manufacturer, Bharat Biotech, because of that firm’s “critical expertise” in conjugate vaccine development and manufacturing, UM officials said.

“This project is a testimony of our belief in collaborative research and our commitment to introduce highly effective and affordable vaccine to solve region specific neglected diseases in the developing world,” said Krishna Ella, Bharat Biotech’s chairman and managing director.