Even in an economy that’s proved devastating to charitable giving and government grants, the Baylor Institute of Immunology Research (BIIR), a component of Baylor Research Institute (BRI), has managed to buck the trend: BIIR received grants totaling nearly $35 million in 2009.
As part of the Baylor Health Care System in North Texas, BIIR is one of the only institutes of its kind dedicated to the study of the human immune system. BIIR conducts advanced patient-oriented research all focused on using the immune system to fight serious illnesses such as cancer, infectious diseases, and autoimmune conditions.
The multiple grants will benefit a diverse array of research programs at BIIR, all of which share a common goal: more effective health care that saves, prolongs and improves lives.
Michael Ramsay, M.D., president of the Baylor Research Institute, sums it up: “These clinical trials are all addressing immediate clinical needs.”
Biodefense against infectious disease: Biodefense helps prepare for, and minimize the impact of, widespread outbreaks of illness due to biological agents. With a significant series of grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Baylor is a research leader in this field. Earlier this year, the NIH renewed a grant to Baylor Research Institute for $14.3 million. Three supplementary grants related to this award and totaling $6.9 million were funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the federal stimulus package). The Institute also received an NIH award to study category B pathogens (bacteria and viruses that cause serious human diseases). This five-year $6.3 million grant will support collaborations between BIIR scientists and researchers from within the US and from Thailand, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Macedonia, Spain, England and France.
Vaccines for HIV, HPV and Hepatitis C: BIIR investigators are conducting a clinical trial to test a new therapeutic vaccine for HIV. BIIR is also conducting pre-clinical research that will allow clinical trials for hepatitis C and human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccines. These diseases are still incurable; however, researchers at BIIR have developed a technique that utilizes cells from the body’s own immune system to fight these diseases. In 2007, BIIR became the first INSERM unit in the United States. INSERM, the research organization of the French government, awarded $6.8 million to Baylor Research Institute from ANRS (the French AIDS agency) to develop and test HIV vaccines and additional funding for a hepatitis C program. BIIR also received a federal stimulus package grant from the NIH to study a treatment for HPV.
Autoimmune Diseases: BIIR recently received a five-year, $3.5 million award from the NIH to establish an Autoimmunity Center of Excellence at BIIR. This center is one of only nine centers across the U.S. It will support both clinical research as well as clinical trials to test novel drugs in human autoimmune diseases. In addition, BIIR also received a renewal grant totaling $1.3 million for five years to study children with systemic juvenile arthritis. Children with this type of arthritis do not respond to conventional therapies and often suffer for years with this disease; however, BIIR researchers have discovered a treatment that has proven very successful in a clinical trial. BIIR’s Center for Personalized Medicine received a pilot project grant that will be used to develop genomic tools to help researchers diagnose and treat multiple sclerosis.
Cancer Vaccines: Similarly, BIIR researchers are testing a promising approach to treating cancer by using altered dendritic cells from the body’s own immune system to attack cancerous cells. Grants received this year will help BIIR investigators continue their research of this technique which is currently being studied for the treatment of melanoma, breast cancer, and lymphoma.
Immunology in pregnant women: As the H1N1 influenza virus has so devastatingly demonstrated, pregnancy can affect the immune system and render pregnant women more susceptible to illness. With funding received this year, BIIR researchers are examining how the immune system changes during pregnancy to hopefully gauge how pregnant women will respond to disease and infection.
“The world-class investigators at BIIR are getting strong peer recognition for their scientific discoveries with this very significant grant support,” adds Dr. Ramsay. “The community has also been very generous with philanthropic support which is essential to seed research projects and fill in much needed funds when expenses exceed the grants.”
“These awards are due to the extraordinary efforts of our physicians, scientists, researchers and staff,” says Jacques Banchereau, PhD, director of BIIR. He says that a history of successful research, along with a consistent ability to translate results into real-world applications, gives BIIR an edge.”These grants are crucial to continuing research, given the expense of studies in human health care. As it is at academic institutions, considerable external funding is required to progress,” explains Dr. Banchereau.
Dr. Ramsay adds that critical funding for the institute comes from other sources as well, including support from Baylor Health Care System, from commercial and industry partners and from generous philanthropic giving from the local community. “It’s thanks to this additional support that BIIR can bring the latest advances to patients in a timely manner.”
Dr. Ramsay is also hopeful that 2010 will continue the critical trend of sufficient funding for BIIR’s industry-leading medical research. He notes that BIIR scientists have applied for numerous grants which are still pending.
Baylor Institute for Immunology Research