A nationwide group of institutions that conducts clinical trials of promising candidate vaccines and therapies for infectious diseases, known as the Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Units (VTEUs), has been awarded nine contracts to strengthen and broaden the scope of its research. Group Health Research Institute is one of these institutions. With these new awards, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) will increase the number of funded institutions from eight to nine and expand the ability of the VTEUs to conduct research in domestic and international research locations, including resource-poor settings.
Each institution has the potential to receive funding from the NIAID, part of the National Institutes of Health, estimated to be up to $135 million annually over a seven-year period. (During the past seven years, Group Health Research Institute's VTEU funding averaged $3 million a year.)
"Group Health is the only one of the nine VTEU centers located west of the Rockies-and the only one not at a university medical center," said Lisa A. Jackson, MD, MPH, principal investigator of the Group Health VTEU and a senior investigator at Group Health Research Institute. "With this new contract, we will be continuing the work we started when we joined the VTEU network in 2007." The Group Health VTEU is currently focusing on evaluating the new H7N9 influenza strain that caused an outbreak when it was transmitted from birds to people in China last spring. "We will be evaluating a wide range of vaccines in addition to flu vaccines, including smallpox, pneumococcal, and other vaccines, in populations including children, adults, and the elderly," she added.
Established in 1962, the VTEUs have conducted hundreds of clinical trials, many of which have contributed to vaccine licensure. VTEU investigators have tested vaccines and therapeutics for diseases such as influenza, pneumonia, pertussis, Haemophilus influenzae type B infection, cholera, anthrax, malaria, and tuberculosis. Childhood vaccines and combination vaccines-the delivery of several vaccines through one inoculation-have been and remain an important part of the VTEUs' research goals.
For example, the network is evaluating the safety of and immune response generated by the pertussis vaccine Tdap in pregnant women and the effect of immunizing expectant mothers on their infants' immune responses to DTaP, the pertussis vaccine that is routinely administered to children.