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Researchers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have received a $5.6 million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
(DARPA) and the Army Research Office (ARO) to develop transient
immunity against known, unknown, naturally occurring, or engineered
disease-causing pathogens. The ultimate goal is to develop a viable
countermeasure to an unknown pathogen within seven days of receiving it
in a laboratory.
Wayne A. Marasco, MD, PhD, of the Department of Cancer Immunology and AIDS at Dana-Farber and an associate professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, is the project's principal investigator.
Since the mid 1990's, DARPA's Defense Sciences Office has pioneered
advances across the full spectrum of bio-warfare defense needs,
including the development of advanced diagnostics and medical therapies
that are active against an entire range of infectious agents. "This
grant will support revolutionary advances in rapid response to naturally
evolving and engineered pathogens," says Marasco. "DARPA has issued a
challenge to develop a treatment to unknown threats in just seven days,
and we are excited about the opportunity to meet this challenge."
Disease-causing pathogens can be spread through natural and
intentional means. Factors responsible for the increase in newly
emerging and re-emerging pathogens include: increased animal-human
interface, increased population densities and international travel,
climate change as it affects migration of animals such as birds — some
of which could be disease carriers — and the narrowing of genetic
diversity among food animal stocks. In addition, the proliferation of
genetic engineering technologies that can be easily redirected from
beneficent to offensive purposes, and the covert biological sabotage of
food animals are all great biodefense concerns.
"In the past, medical responses to large-scale disease outbreaks have
been very slow," said Marasco. "Often it has taken many months to years
to research and create medicines or vaccines, time barriers that often
result in loss of life. This program gives us an opportunity to very
rapidly provide ways to prevent infection and extend survival until
long-term solutions are available."
Marasco will direct an international team of leading scientists and
businesses engaged in the study of pathogen detection, screening, and
therapeutic formulation and manufacturing. The team will pursue two
parallel paths toward the program goals: first, to rapidly select
broadly neutralizing phage antibodies for direct use as therapeutics for
microbial infection; and, second, to investigate selective
anti-idiotypic stimulation of B-cell precursors leading to secretion of
antibodies with broad-spectrum, natural, anti-microbial activity.
In addition to Dana-Farber, the other institutions and organizations
that comprise the research team are Columbia University, New York;
Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute, Albuquerque, N.M., Sanofi
Pasteur VaxDesign Campus, Orlando, Fla.; Virapur, San Diego; University
of Alberta, Canada; and Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia.
Latham BioPharm Group, Maynard, Mass., is the systems integrator for the