The Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute (VGTI) at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) was established in March 2001 with the opening of the new 60,000 sq. ft. OHSU West Campus Research Building with 4 Biosafety Level 3 (BSL3) and 2 Animal Biosafety Level 3 (ABSL3) laboratories. The overall mission of the VGTI is to develop research and teaching programs in accordance with the objectives and policies of OHSU. The founding goal of the VGTI was to assemble a multidisciplinary team of scientists to respond to the increasingly serious infectious disease threats facing the people of Oregon, the United States and the world as a whole, including AIDS, chronic viral infection-associated diseases, newly emerging viral diseases, and infectious diseases of the elderly. Vaccine development, as well as development of novel immune and gene therapeutic approaches to these diseases are the major priorities of the faculty. The founding of the VGTI was based on the increasing realization that progress in these areas of investigation requires high level expertise and experience in virology, immunology, animal models, pathology and clinical infectious disease, a combination that is rarely found in a single investigator. The strategy of the VGTI is to provide a close-knit collaborative environment for a group of independent scientists within these disciplines that could interact on a daily basis. Thus, a major founding principle of the VGTI is the expectation that each VGTI investigator not only establishes their own vigorous research program, but also devotes a portion of their research effort to comprehensive collaborative programs aimed at bringing diverse expertise to major clinical problems in infectious disease. These VGTI programs are intended to span the continuum between basic and clinical science, in which discoveries are rapidly advanced from the level of molecular and cellular biology through animal models and ultimately into clinical testing – from lab bench to bedside. The development of this unique program in immunology and virology also provides an important training opportunity for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows at OHSU. Therefore, an important part of our mission is the training of young scientists in newer academic disciplines emerging at the VGTI. Finally, many of the VGTI projects are clinically important and are focused towards the development of new therapies for disease. Therefore, another part of the institute’s mission is to transition these new vaccines, drugs, and assays to the public through corporate alliances. Thus, we anticipate that the VGTI will stimulate growth of the biotech industry in the greater Portland area.
The VGTI was formed to bridge scientific gaps at OHSU and take advantage of the existing faculty expertise and unique resources at the university resulting in synergistic interactions that would create a world class program in vaccines and new therapeutic approaches to disease. The formation of the VGTI as an independent entity was envisioned to be a scientific and fiscal marriage between the Oregon National Primate Research Center (ONPRC) and the OHSU School of Medicine (SOM). The rationale for this arrangement is explained below. One of the unique resources at OHSU is the nonhuman primate model (NHP) that is an essential element of any clinically-relevant investigations in the targeted areas of human disease. Thus, one high priority mission of the VGTI is to establish, maintain expertise in, and scientifically utilize NHP models of immunity and infection. To this end, the VGTI was formed in close association with the ONPRC with VGTI faculty providing the scientific leadership and staff for the ONPRC’s Division of Pathobiology and Immunology. This association is mutually beneficial providing new scientific programs for the ONPRC as well as strengthening ties between the ONPRC and basic science and clinical programs at the OHSU Portland campus. Several VGTI faculty participate in NHP research and are ONPRC scientists; others run programs that are more clinically based or diverge into research areas that do not involve NHP. The NHP offers an ideal animal model for defining parameters of infection and protection as well as defining parameters involved in the aging of the immune system. Many avenues of vaccine development cannot be approached in rodent models and are ethically precluded in humans. Moreover, the immune systems of man and nonhuman primates are more closely related to each other than those between man and small animals. The VGTI research programs are benefitted by the primate resources available to them through the ONRPC.
The VGTI houses several core services, including the Gene Microarray Shared Resource, a clinical vaccine testing core, a state of the art flow cytometry core, monoclonal core, virology core, imaging core – including a laser capture microscope, mass spectrometry core and animal core. The latter provides access to over 4500 rhesus macaques, the largest accumulation of specific pathogen free animals in the primate centers, a large colony of aged monkeys, and ABSL3 containment for over 250 monkeys.
VACCINE & GENE THERAPY INSTITUTE
Number of Employees: 100
Current Annual Funding: $38 Million Total Funds
Number of Company Spinouts: 2
Tomegavax Inc (http://www.tomegavax.com)
Virogenomics Inc (http://www.virogenomics.com)