Seattle Biomed Nabs $9M Gates Foundation Grant to Speed Up Malaria Vaccine Effort

4/27/11Follow @xconomy

Seattle Biomed isn’t wasting any time putting the whole systems biology idea to work.

The nonprofit global health research center is announcing today it has nailed down an $8.9 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to use systems biology techniques to identify new biomarkers that could become building blocks for a new malaria vaccine. The grant will support work led by Seattle Biomed’s Ruobing Wang, Alan Aderem and Stefan Kappe, along with a crosstown collaborator from Sage Bionetworks—Jonathan Derry.

Seattle Biomed made a push in the direction of systems biology—which seeks to study whole biological organisms in context, rather than one gene or protein in isolation—last month. The nonprofit recruited Aderem, the co-founder of the Institute for Systems Biology, to help infuse its global health research efforts with this bold brand of science. Seattle Biomed is well known for its work in developing malaria vaccines—including one now in clinical trials—but this is a notoriously tough field that has stumped biologists for decades. Any successful vaccine against malaria would have extraordinary value for human health, since malaria is thought to kill 1 million people a year in the developing world.

Ruobring Wang

“In order to bring the burden of malaria under control – with the ultimate goal of eradicating the pathogens that cause disease – we know we need a highly efficacious anti-infection vaccine,” Wang said in a statement. “But, without reliable biomarkers of anti-infection immunity, the development and testing of malaria vaccines is a slow and expensive process.”

If the scientific team is fortunate to discover valid biomarkers, they will be used to help monitor whether vaccine candidates are really working in clinical trials at an early stage of the game. That knowledge can be used to help scientists pick the candidates that are most likely to succeed at inducing protective immunity in clinical trials, scientists say.

The grant of $8.9 million is the second big donation from the Gates Foundation to Seattle Biomed in a month. The foundation gave $7 million to the institute in connection with Aderem’s move from the Institute for Systems Biology to Seattle Biomed.

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