Our Mission

The Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute (VGTI) at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) (http://www.ohsu.edu/vgti/) was established in March 2001 with the opening of the new 60,000sq. ft. OHSU West Campus Research Building with 4 BSL3 and 2 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 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 exploit NHP models of immunity and infection. To this end, the VGTI was formed in close association with the Oregon National Primate Research Center (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.  All current VGTI faculty participate in NHP research and are ONPRC scientists; however, as the VGTI grows in the future, some of the programs will be more clinically based or may 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 take advantage of 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 BSL3 containment for over 250 monkeys.

A newly constructed building ABSL3 housing consists of two 2,023 sq ft isolated ABSL 3 suites (total of 4,046 sq ft).  Each suite contains two animal rooms, housing up to 36 animals with 18 in each animal holding room, a procedure/necropsy room and work space. The total capacity of the ABSL 3 facility is 72 animals.  The suites are designed for select agent as well as ABSL3 work.
Conventional housing of 8,500 sq ft consisting of five animal housing rooms, cage wash facility, food storage, diet kitchen including cold storage, pantry and walk-in cooler and office space.   The conventional housing will hold 208 NHPs


Oregon Health & Science University and the University of Washington, along with a number of partner institutions across the Northwest, have received federal funding to form a regional research center aimed at combating emerging or re-emerging infectious diseases that pose a serious threat to human health.

Based at OHSU, the collaborative Pacific Northwest Regional Center for Excellence (PNWRCE) for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases was established through a five-year, $40.7 million cooperative agreement from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), a component of the National Institutes of Health. Jay Nelson, Ph.D., is director of the PNWRCE and OHSU’s Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute (VGTI), and Michael Katze, Ph.D., UW professor of microbiology, is co-director of the PNWRCE.

“Since the anthrax attacks in 2001, the country has rapidly expanded our ability to detect and combat infectious diseases whether they are spread naturally or through a bioterrorist attack,” said Dr. Nelson. “These regional research centers located across the country serve to better protect the population while at the same time conducting research aimed at preventing or successfully combating a public health crisis – recent examples would include threats posed in the past few years by influenza, West Nile virus and SARS.”

Members of the PNWRCE will work closely with public health departments in all participating Northwest states in training and research. The members will also collaborate with newly funded science initiatives within the state such as the Oregon Translational Research and Drug Development Institute. OTRADI provides crucial research services to Oregon researchers involved in pharmaceutical development and will be an important partner in the research.  

PNWRCE researchers will study a broad range of diseases and viruses, including Ebola, Dengue, SARS, avian and 1918 influenza, dengue fever, yellow fever, and West Nile, all of which are caused by pathogens that NIAID categorizes as A, B and C.  NIAID priority pathogens in category A are the most dangerous and include Ebola and Dengue.

The PNWRCE will focus on two main areas to identify potential therapeutic targets for infectious disease: 1) research investigating defects in the immune system caused by aging, and 2) the study of disease-host interactions through newly advanced techniques in genomics and genetic analyses. Both research areas will facilitate the development of vaccines and other therapies.



The VGTI was also just awarded funding for a grant to provide training to pre- and post-doctoral students in theoretical and practical approaches in the use of animal models, immunology, molecular and cell biology, and functional genomics to analyze problems in virology.  The field of virology is a dynamic discipline that has significantly changed over the past decade requiring investigators to have background knowledge in many different areas of science including cell biology, signaling, protein and nucleic acid biochemistry, immunology, structural biology, the use of virus as vectors in gene therapy, animal models and the emerging area of functional genomics that encompasses microarray transcriptome analysis, proteomics, and bioinformatics approaches. This program will produce highly trained virology students with interdisciplinary training in these approaches that will make more effective scientists and faculty in industry or teaching colleges or universities.


Number of Employees: 100
Current Annual Funding: $21.8 Million Total Funds
Number of Company Spinouts: 2
Najit Technologies Inc  (http://www.najittech.com)
Virogenomics Inc (http://www.virogenomics.com)

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