Internationally Renowned Scientist Recruited to VGTI Florida

04/08/09  Portland, Ore.

VGTI Florida, the Florida-funded expansion of Oregon Health & Science University’s highly successful Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute, has announced Rafick-Pierre Sékaly, Ph.D., of the University of Montreal, will be the scientific director of the new institute. He will also co-direct the research facility along with OHSU’s Jay Nelson, Ph.D. Nelson also serves as director of the VGTI at OHSU in Portland, Ore.

Dr. Sékaly currently serves as scientific director of basic research and strategic planning and director of the Laboratory of Microbiology and Immunology for the University of Montreal Hospital Centre’s Research Centre. He is also scientific director for the National Laboratory of Immune Monitoring, a collaboration between the University of Montreal and MDS Pharma. In addition, he serves as director of INSERM Unit 743 in Human Immunology, a unit of theInstitut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale, France’s major funding organization.

Dr. Sékaly has extensive expertise in vaccine research. Specifically, his group is among the world’s leaders in HIV vaccine development as well as the generation of novel approaches for HIV and cancer vaccines. His work has resulted in the publication of more than 200 articles in scientific journals. His studies have also resulted in the issuance of 20 patents. In addition, the Sékaly lab has received several prestigious research grants from the Canadian Government, the United States’ National Institutes of Health and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

“I am truly excited about the opportunity to develop an outstanding institute for immunotherapy in Port St Lucie along side the Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies (TPIMS). We look forward to interacting with all the universities and institutes in the state of Florida to create a unique scientific environment to develop biotech,” said Dr. Sékaly.

In the next few months, Dr. Sékaly’s group of more than 30 scientists will relocate to the Florida institute. Within 10 years, the facility is expected to employ at least 200 staff. Dr. Sékaly’s group will continue their work on AIDS and cancer vaccines as well as extend their studies to develop vaccines and therapeutics to protect the aged populations that are the most vulnerable to disease.

“The recruitment of a scientist of Dr Sékaly’s caliber is a real coup for the VGTI,” said Dr. Nelson. “He is considered one of the leading human immunologists in the world. We anticipate that his work in infectious disease and cancer will accelerate the production of therapies for the citizens of Florida, the U.S. in general, and the world as a whole.

OHSU is one of a select group of internationally regarded institutions that have been invited to build and operate satellite research facilities entirely funded by, and based in, the state of Florida. The Scripps Research Institute, the Burnham Institute for Medical Research, the Stanford Research Institute and the Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies all received funds from Florida to build similar institutes in the state. The Max Planck Institute in Germany has decided to participate as well.

Initially the VGTI Florida will be housed in the TPIMS facility in Port St Lucie, Fla. An agreement recently was finalized so that VGTI Florida staff can now begin work in that building. Construction on a permanent home for the institute - adjacent to Torrey Pines - will begin in the coming months. A letter of intent to construct the permanent home of the VGTI Florida has been signed by representatives from the institute and Core Communities, a community development planner who is building facilities for VGTI Florida and other institutions invited to expand operations into the state of Florida.

“We are very pleased to have concluded the initial negotiations that allow the research process to begin,” said Dan Dorsa, Ph.D., president of the board of directors for the VGTI Florida. Dr. Dorsa also serves as vice president for research at OHSU. “Opening the institute will benefit both Oregon and Florida. In Oregon, vaccine research will expand through collaborations between scientists in Oregon and Florida, leading to improvements to human health. In Florida, the facility will be an economic stimulus, creating additional construction and research jobs.”

VGTI Florida became possible through a $60 million investment by the state of Florida announced in January 2008. The City of Port St. Lucie also has committed $53 million for infrastructure expenditures. Research at the facility will be funded by National Institutes of Health research grants and by other funding organizations.