The University of Rhode Island’s (URI) biotechnology center in Providence is creating an institute to research the prevention and cure of so-called neglected animal and human diseases, which will be led by Annie De Groot, the CEO of biotech EpiVax Inc.

The purpose of the new program, called the Institute for Immunology and Informatics, is to create vaccines to prevent AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, dengue fever and other diseases. Researchers will use cutting-edge bioinformatics tools to speed up creating treatments and
cures for these illnesses, stated URI. This includes using immunomics — informatics, genomics and immunology –- to design better vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics.

The institute is URI’s first research laboratory at the Providence campus. It’s hoped the location will enable researchers to easily create partnerships at the nearby hospitals, Brown University and local life sciences companies.

EpiVax, based in Providence, is focused on creating vaccines. De Groot will also assume the role of professor in the URI department of cell and molecular biology. De Groot stated the institute will also provide technology access to the global research community working on vaccines, as well.

Also participating is Leonard Moise, director of vaccine research at EpiVax; URI professor Thomas Mather, a researcher of vector-borne diseases; and URI professor Marta Gomez-Chiarri, a fisheries researcher working on fish vaccines. Others working with the institute include Leslie De Groot, an endocrinology researcher, and Greg Paquette, URI’s director of biotechnology programs.

De Groot and fellow researcher Bill Martin founded EpiVax in 1998 with funds from the Slater Biotechnology Fund. The company has not had to seek venture capital; De Groot has won more than $15 million in federal and foundation research funds during the last 14 years.