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University of Florida to Share in $45 Million Grant to Fight Bioterrorism, New Diseases

The University of Florida, together with a consortium of five other Southeastern universities, will share a five-year, $45 million federal grant to combat bioterrorism threats such as smallpox and emerging diseases such as SARS, the National Institutes of Health and the U.S.Department of Homeland Security announced recently.

Scientists at the six institutions belonging to the Southeastern Regional Center of Excellence for Emerging Infections and Biodefense, SERCEB, will begin collaborating this fall to develop vaccines, diagnostic tests and treatments for potential bioterrorism agents

"I'm very optimistic that many of the threats people are concerned about with respect to bioterrorism will cease to be so in four or five years, because we will learn to deal more effectively with them," said Richard Moyer, UF College of Medicine senior associate dean for research development. Moyer is also a professor in the UF department of molecular genetics and microbiology who serves on the consortium's six-member steering committee.

Moyer said UF scientists, in collaboration with other member institutions, will lead investigations beginning next month to help create second-generation, novel smallpox vaccines to prevent the virus from entering human cells, and to develop new drugs to prevent the smallpox virus from replicating.

Founded last year, the center is one of eight such collaborations nationwide. It will be headquartered at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., and led by Dr. Barton Haynes of the Duke Human Vaccine Institute. Other member institutions are the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Emory University in Atlanta, the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

The University of South Florida is an affiliate of the project and the only other Florida academic institution involved. Government research facilities such as the NIH, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Oak Ridge National Laboratory also will participate, along with Veterans Affairs medical centers and state health departments.

The $45 million in funding should be allocated by Sept. 30, with UF expected to receive about $4 million, Moyer said. Universities conducting research on nonhuman primates are expected to receive much larger amounts because of the expense involved with care and maintenance of the animals.

Center-wide core facilities also will be funded. Federal funding for all eight regional centers nationwide is approximately $350 million over a five-year period.

"What excites me more than the funding is that we get a seat at the table," Moyer said. "This group will be one of the major players for U.S. health policy regarding bioterrorism."

Moyer said West Nile virus, SARS and other sorts of emerging diseases are going to become more common, but SERCEB is designed to deal with problems in a hurry if needed.

Under Moyer's direction, UF scientists have won international recognition for research on vaccinia, a virus that serves as the basis for the current smallpox vaccine, and swinepox, rabbitpox and pox viruses of insects, known as entomopoxviruses.