The world experts on vaccine development at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston have received an international designation acknowledging their unique niche in a sphere where research, government regulation and big pharma often collide.

UTMB's Sealy Center for Vaccine Development has been named a World Health Organization Collaborating Center for Vaccine Research, Evaluation and Training on Emerging Infectious Diseases. The designation by WHO makes UTMB only the second university in the Western Hemisphere to receive this designation; the other is the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

This means that UTMB's vaccine development experts will collaborate with a select team of international experts to help facilitate vaccine research and development against important infectious diseases — for example, figuring out how to get experimental Ebola vaccine candidates to suffering people in the wake of the recent outbreak.

"UTMB's top-tier expertise in vaccine development is acknowledged among scientists across the globe," said Joachim Hombach, senior adviser, Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals at WHO and co-director of the Global Vaccine and Immunization Research Forum. "Especially regarding emerging infectious diseases that represent a significant cause of suffering and death, and impose an enormous financial burden on society, UTMB is clearly recognized as one of the most important international leaders in the vaccine development world."

The medical branch is only the seventh university in the world to receive WHO designation for vaccine expertise. In addition to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the others are the University of Geneva, University of Zurich, and University of Lausanne in Switzerland, the Second Military Medical University in Shanghai and the University of Antwerp in Belgium.

"UTMB fills a critical role at the intersection of biocontainment and emerging diseases and the regulatory hurdles and processes you have to go through to get product approval even in the case of urgent, unmet needs," said UTMB's David Beasley, associate professor of microbiology and immunology and associate director of the UTMB WHO Collaborating Center for Vaccine Research.

UTMB is the only academic institution in the United States with a fully operational biosafety level four containment facility — the Galveston National Laboratory — where research on the world's most deadly pathogens can be conducted under the strictest safety practices and procedures.

WHO Collaborating Centers support WHO to investigate public health issues from many angles, ranging from basic science and animal studies to clinical trials, public policy, training and funding.

"UTMB is uniquely positioned as an academic center to sit between the regulating agencies and the public health agencies," said Alan Barrett, director of the UTMB Sealy Center for Vaccine Development and director of the UTMB WHO Collaborating Center for Vaccine Research. "We bring our perspective as scientists to the table at these global discussions where critical policies and processes to address emerging infectious disease threats are formulated."

UTMB's responsibilities will be to track and provide analysis of the vaccine pipeline against emerging infectious diseases, to conduct research on the development, evaluation and use of vaccines against emerging infectious diseases of public health importance, and to provide education and training for future investigators in the field of vaccinology.

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