Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, VBI sign agreement for drugs, vaccines and diagnostics

BLACKSBURG, Va., May 2, 2006 – The Virginia Bioinformatics Institute (VBI) at Virginia Tech and the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (FIOCRUZ) today signed an agreement to accelerate the development of new health products and technologies.

The initial three-year agreement is intended to facilitate the development of drugs, vaccines, diagnostics and other technologies that may reduce the global burden of infectious diseases. The collaboration includes innovative research and development initiatives targeting healthcare solutions for dengue fever, hepatitis C, HIV/AIDS, influenza, malaria, and pneumonia (Mycoplasma pneumoniae).

FIOCRUZ, which has expertise in biology, medicine, clinical treatment and the epidemiology of infectious diseases, has developed infrastructure for the prevention, treatment and detection of endemic infectious diseases. VBI has developed genomics, proteomics and bioinformatics tools and data that can be readily applied to the study of infectious diseases as well as the discovery of new vaccine, drug and diagnostic targets. The partnership will therefore combine the growing ability of FIOCRUZ to develop and introduce new healthcare products with the computational and infectious disease research capabilities of VBI. In addition, both parties will engage in scientific, technical and educational collaborations that will serve to advance efforts to reduce disparities in global health.

Bruno Sobral, executive and scientific director of VBI, remarked: “This agreement reflects a compelling need for new ways to tackle the global threat of infectious diseases. It also represents what we see as a highly innovative framework for new partnerships in the public health arena.” He added: “By signing this agreement, we are creating an enabling environment that allows VBI’s strengths in computational resources, high-performance computing, bioinformatics and infectious disease research to be combined with the clinical expertise and product development skills of FIOCRUZ. This will provide a unique mechanism to address some of the key global challenges in public health posed by existing and emerging biological pathogens and help to remove some of the gross inequities in disease burden that currently exist between developed and developing countries.”

“We are extremely pleased to initiate this collaborative agreement with the highly respected Oswaldo Cruz Foundation to further research into the diagnosis and treatment of these infectious diseases, which are disabling and killing millions around the world,” said Charles W. Steger, president of Virginia Tech. “Such strategic partnerships – combining expertise and resources – provide the greatest opportunity for innovative and successful solutions to these pressing healthcare issues.”

The initial projects included in the agreement span four areas, namely the modeling and simulation of infectious disease outbreaks, research on vectors that transmit agents of disease, countermeasure responses to infectious disease outbreaks and several initiatives designed to transfer drugs, vaccines and diagnostics from the bench to the clinic (translational research).

The modeling/simulation project will initially look at the potential impact at the population level of an influenza outbreak in a highly populated suburban area in a South American city. The vector projects, which will examine ways to prevent the insect-borne transmission of diseases like malaria and dengue, will combine the strengths of vector-borne infectious disease initiatives at Virginia Tech with the public health expertise of FIOCRUZ. Over one million people worldwide die annually from malarial infections and up to two-fifths of the world population is at risk of infection from dengue according to recent estimates.

Initial targets for product development will include hepatitis C, for which there is currently no available vaccine, and Mycoplasma pneumoniae, a leading cause of pneumonia in young adults. The nucleotide sequence of Mycoplasma pneumoniae is already available in the public domain. Translational research with proven clinical groups at FIOCRUZ will focus on dengue and HIV/AIDS.

Carlos Morel, director of the Center for Technological Development in Health (CDTS) of FIOCRUZ, commented: “We urgently need complementary approaches to improve health equity across the globe. These collaborations should take advantage of the growing capabilities of developing countries to undertake innovation in health and the rapid advances being made in new research and technology development at leading research institutes worldwide.” He added: “Public-private partnerships have accelerated progress. However, much remains to be done to deliver new health technologies and products to those that need them the most. Innovative cross-border, institutional partnerships of this type represent a major step forward in our ability to deal with the burden of infectious disease across the globe.”

About the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (FIOCRUZ)

The Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (FIOCRUZ) is the largest biomedical research institution in Latin America and one of the most respected in the world. FIOCRUZ forms part of the Brazilian Ministry of Health and plays an important role in the area of science and technology in health, including activities in basic and applied research, teaching, reference hospital and ambulatory assistance, strategies formulation in public health, information and diffusion, personnel training, vaccines, drugs, diagnostic kits and reagents production, quality control and development of technologies for health. The organization is over 100 years old and was modeled on the Pasteur Institute from where Oswaldo Cruz (one of the institute’s founders) drew inspiration.

About the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute

The Virginia Bioinformatics Institute (VBI) at Virginia Tech has a research platform centered on understanding the “disease triangle” of host–pathogen–environment interactions in plants, humans and other animals. By successfully channeling innovation into transdisciplinary approaches that combine information technology and biology, researchers at VBI are addressing some of today’s key challenges in the biomedical, environmental and plant sciences. Virginia Tech, the most comprehensive university in Virginia, is dedicated to quality, innovation, and results to the commonwealth, the nation, and the world.