Grant given to prevent transient immunity against pathogens

Scientists at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have been awarded a $5.6 million grant to develop transient immunity against disease causing pathogens.

The grant was made by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Army Research Office. It covers agents that are naturally occurring or engineered. Ultimately, the project’s goal is for the laboratory to be cable of making a countermeasure to an unknown pathogen within a week of receiving it.

The head of the project is Wayne Marasco. Marasco comes from the Department of Immunology and AIDS at the Dana-Farber Institute and is an associate professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

"This grant will support revolutionary advances in rapid response to naturally evolving and engineered pathogens," Marasco said. "DARPA has issued a challenge to develop a treatment to unknown threats in just seven days, and we are excited about the opportunity to meet this challenge."

The proliferation of genetically engineered technologies that can be used for offensive purposes and the covert sabotage of food animals have become great biodefense concerns.

"In the past, medical responses to large-scale disease outbreaks have been very slow," Marasco said. "Often it has taken many months to years to research and create medicines or vaccines, time barriers that often result in loss of life. This program gives us an opportunity to very rapidly provide ways to prevent infection and extend survival until long-term solutions are available."

Marasco will be the leader of an international group of scientists and businesses directly involved in the study of pathogen detection, screening and therapeutic formulation and manufacturing. The team plans to pursue two primary and parallel goals.

First, they hope to select broadly neutralizing phage antibodies for direct use as therapeutics for microbial selection. Second, they plan to investigate selective anti-idiotypic stimulation of B-Cell precursors leading to the secretion of antibodies with broad-spectrum, natural, anti-microbial activity.