Vaccine Development

Back in 1974, Myron Levine, M.D., and Richard Hornick, M.D., established the Clinical Research Center for Vaccine Development at the University of Maryland Medical Center. In 1976, because of its expanded work-scope and size, the Clinical Research Center was renamed the Center for Vaccine Development (CVD).

The CVD rapidly became an international leader in vaccine research. It has earned a reputation for the genetic engineering of new vaccine candidates against cholera, typhoid fever, shigellosis and malaria, as well as for the innovative clinical evaluation of a variety of new vaccines.

The CVD is unique in that it incorporates within it the full range of vaccinology activities. It initiates basic laboratory science programs to generate new vaccine candidates and follows those candidates through clinical evaluation, field studies and, finally, public policy analysis.

The Center is dedicated to controlling infectious diseases that afflict children and adults throughout the United States and in developing countries. The Center is involved in projects to control cholera, typhoid fever, malaria, shigellosis, E. coli diarrheal disease and invasive infections (such as meningitis) caused by Haemophilus influenzae type b, pneumococcus and meningococcus. The CVD maintains field units in Chile and Mali, which help it to fulfill its mission in developing countries.

In 2000, the CVD received a $20.4 million, five-year grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop a "stealth" measles vaccine. This vaccine is being designed to protect infants in sub-Sahara Africa and other developing regions of the world who are at high risk of developing severe or fatal measles, but who are too young to receive the current measles vaccine.

Despite the fact that there already exists a measles vaccine, about 900,000 infants and young children continue to die each year from measles in developing countries, particularly in sub-Sahara Africa. One of the reasons for this is that, based on World Health Organization recommendations, the current measles vaccine should not be given to infants younger than 9 months of age.

The period from about 4 to 8 months of age, however, represents a high-risk period for infants in developing countries, where measles is common and the chance of exposure is high. When measles is contracted during this young age, the disease is often severe. Up to 20 percent of exposed infants may suffer fatal outcomes.

CVD researchers think that it may be possible to successfully protect infants younger than 9 months of age using a new vaccine that applies advances in biotechnology. Instead of injecting the measles vaccine, researchers prefer administering DNA vaccines and "live vector" vaccines via mucosal surfaces -- either orally or by nose drops.

As Director of the Center for Vaccine Development and lead investigator of the Stealth Measles Vaccine Project, Levine is directing the effort to develop a mucosally delivered measles vaccine. Levine and a team of researchers are preparing for early clinical trials of the new vaccine to be conducted in Mali and Mozambique. It will take a collaboration of genetic engineers, immunologists, epidemiologists and clinical vaccine specialists from several different medical organizations around the world to complete the trials.