Senator Whitehouse (RI) addressed more than 100 experts in the field of vaccine development today at the 8th Vaccine Renaissance, an annual event organized by the University of Rhode Island’s Institute for Immunology and Informatics and supported by EpiVax. He stated that it was tragic that the Sequester achieved what it set out to do – to be a ‘painful, poorly conceived, and unreasonable approach‘ to cutting government budgets, having a detrimental impact on research funding. – echoing the remarks of NIH Director Frank Collins, who also said that ‘we would have an Ebola vaccine today, had research cuts not had such a detrimental impact on vaccine development’ (see Daily Kos, for example).
Following the Senator’s remarks, S&T Director John Julias (image at right), Department of Homeland Security (DHS) addressed new technologies for vacc
ine development that are coming out of the DARPA Blue Angel pipeline and his role in DHS, which is to bring those new technologies to bear on animal health. He also mentioned his frustration, as a program manager, with his ability to bring great new technologies forward and the impact of federal funding constraints on the further development of those programs. He credits small business with most of the innovations that have been brought forward in vaccines in recent years, pointing to the “FastVax” program at EpiVax, which has in the past received DARPA and DoD funding. EpiVax is currently working on a Q fever vaccine for the Department of Defense and has a large pipeline of vaccines for biodefense, most of which have been severely impacted by the decline in SBIR funding (a 51% drop in the last 5 years).
The decline in SBIR research funding has had a serious impact on small biotech companies in the US, which have been the source of “niche” vaccines such as the Ebola vaccine that was being dev eloped by EpiVax in collaboration with USAMRIID. Funding for that vaccine, which was in progress in 2008, was not available to move the vaccine forewrd, and EpiVax attempts to fund the program through SBIR applications have met with failure, despite early results that looked extremely promising. Lenny Moise PhD and Annie De Groot MD direct the vaccine program at EpiVax. Dr De Groot was recently included in the list of the 50 most influential vaccinologists in the world based on a poll conducted by VaccineNation.