The Center for Vaccines and Immunology (CVI) at the University of Georgia was established in fall 2015. Housed in a facility that served as the UGA Veterinary Teaching Hospital from late 1979 until early 2015, the Center will eventually accommodate up to 10-12 research groups comprising 100 total faculty and staff. In addition to training future scientists, the Center’s researchers focus on expanding their understanding of the immunology of infectious diseases and how vaccines work in different populations based upon age, gender and ethnicity.
“We want to know more about why people and animals react differently to vaccine formulations so that we can construct vaccines that work well in as many people and animals as possible,” said CVI Director Ted M. Ross, PhD, a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Infectious Diseases.
One major focus of the CVI will be on translational vaccinology. The CVI will serve as a resource for investigators at UGA, with our academic, government, and corporate partners in the state of Georgia, the US, and internationally to translate the science of vaccine design and development into the assessment of current and novel, experimental vaccines from through pre-clinical and clinical trials.
Therefore, Translational Vaccine Unit has been established within the CVI to assess all aspects of vaccine testing in animal models and human clinical trials.
The CVI’s initial renovations were designed to accommodate up to eight research groups, expected to occupy the space within the Center’s first five years. The facility will expand as more funding becomes available, with the goal of ultimately housing 10-12 laboratories. The first phase of renovations, completed in summer 2016, converted a portion of the first floor of the old VTH to roughly 15,000 square feet of state-of-the-art laboratory space. The initial renovations were supported by the GRA, the UGA Office of the Vice President for Research, the Office of the Provost, the College of Veterinary Medicine and the Department of Infectious Diseases.
Given the long history of vaccine research at the University of Georgia, the physical manifestation of a vaccine center seemed like a natural extension of work already being performed on campus. UGA professors specializing in vaccine development and immunology conceived the CVI as an interdepartmental effort to coordinate vaccine research and development at the university, form new collaborations between investigators and provide access to high-end facilities and instruments. The CVI was the culmination of years of planning.
"The idea of the Center goes back to 2007,” said Fred Quinn, MS, PhD, who heads the Department of Infectious Diseases. “In cooperation with the Vice President for Research David Lee, we put in a proposal to a Board of Regents initiative for hiring seven faculty in Infectious Diseases and we won the award.” Five of the seven faculty hired were full-time or joint appointments in the CVM (in 2016). One of the resulting hires was Don Harn, MS, PhD, a GRA Distinguished Investigator in Infectious Diseases who joined the CVM in March 2009. “When we were hiring Don, one of the discussion points with him was the development of some more coordinated effort toward a vaccine center,” said Quinn. With that began a nearly decade-long collaboration to garner the funding and support required to establish such a center.
The final push to make the CVI a reality came with the early 2015 hiring of Ross, who was serving as director of the vaccines and viral immunity program at the Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute of Florida. Ross brought with him his extensive experience in designing, developing and testing novel vaccine candidates, particularly against viral diseases. His research and development collaboration with pharmaceutical giant Sanofi Pasteur resulted in an experimental universal influenza vaccine, which Sanofi Associate Vice-President for Research Harry Kleanthous, PhD, announced at the World Vaccine Congress in Madrid, Spain in November 2015.
The CVI provides an opportunity to gather investigators focused on vaccine development and immunology under one roof. The CVI’s existence also facilitates the establishment of state-of-the-art core facilities, providing ready access to a range of high-end instruments from microscopes to flow cytometers. The CVI’s physical presence also promises to advance the educational goals of the University much as its research goals, by offering specific opportunities for training to undergraduate and graduate students who are interested in vaccine research and development.