Scientists at the Vaccine & Gene Therapy Institute of Florida (VGTI Florida) have been awarded three new federal research grants that will further support the Institute’s mission of  “Translating Research Into Health®.”

Dr. Elias Haddad, Ph.D. Associate Member and part of the HIV Vaccine Group at VGTI Florida has been awarded a 5-year, $3.17 million dollar RO1 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for work on “Boosting anti-HIV immunity through manipulation of Tfh (follicular helper T cells) Function.”

This is VGTI Florida’s first prime R01 award from the NIH. Dr. Haddad’s findings on a major defect in a particular T cell subset, the follicular helper T cells, that is a component in the response to vaccines, were published earlier this year in the March 10 issue of Nature Medicine.

“We are getting close to the understanding of the pathology contributing to persistent HIV/AIDS infection,” said Dr. Haddad.  “This grant will support further research into understanding of the dysfunction of the immune system in HIV infection.”

In addition, Dr. Ted Ross, Ph.D., Full Member and Program Director of Vaccine Development and Viral Pathogenesis, at VGTI Florida has been awarded two research grants. A two-year, $129 thousand dollar subcontract to a NIH grant to the University of Texas Medical Branch (Prime Awardee) on “Mucosal Vaccine against Ebola and Marburg Viruses.” “These pathogens require Biosafety Level 4 facilities and so we will not be doing any work at VGTI Florida on the viruses themselves,” said Dr. Ross. “My laboratory will engineer vaccines on the computer to optimize the antigen sequences to allow development of a safe vaccine.”

His second award is a two-year, $198 thousand dollar subcontract to a NIH grant awarded to Vanderbilt University (Prime Awardee) on “Human Neutralizing Monoclonal Antibodies for Rift Valley Fever Virus.” “At VGTI Florida, my research group will screen human antibodies for the ability to neutralize this highly pathogenic virus, which is a threat to not only humans as a biodefense agent, but also livestock in the United States,” said Dr. Ross. An outbreak of Rift Valley fever virus would be devastating to the cattle and would have a high mortality rate in infected people. “Identifying these neutralizing antibodies is the first step to designing a safe and effective vaccine,” he added.

“These awards demonstrate the ability of VGTI Florida scientists to garner federal grant monies and bring them to the State of Florida”, said Dr. Jay Nelson, CEO and Founder of VGTI Florida. “We made a commitment to the State to recruit top scientists and develop robust research programs to serve the public good and we are achieving these objectives.”

“Our recruiting efforts are in full swing and these substantial grant awards validate our strategies and follow-through in growing a sustainable institute in Port St. Lucie and expanding the life science industry in the state of Florida,” said Mel Rothberg, Chief Operating Officer of VGTI Florida.

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