The biomedical research community faces daunting challenges to better understand the nature of infectious diseases, which account for more than one-third of all deaths worldwide. Long standing pandemics caused by HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis (TB) kill more than 8 million people annually. Viral hepatitis, sexually transmitted viral and bacterial diseases, hospital and community-associated infections, and fungal infections are major threats to human health. Complex interactions among humans, microbes, animals and the environment create niches for the emergence of new infectious agents or variant of old ones. Disease threats like SARS, Avian influenza, Chikungunya, Ebola, and new drug-resistant bacterial, fungal and viral threats emerge each year.
The impact of infectious diseases is not limited to resource-limited countries or communities. In the United States, sexually transmitted diseases cause 20 million new infections each year costing nearly $16 billion. Influenza and pneumonia account for approximately 54 thousand deaths, and more than 2 million drug resistant infections will occur in healthcare facilities resulting in 23 thousand deaths. Emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases such as West Nile, measles, Clostridium difficile, highly drug resistant Klebsiella, Pseudomonas, Acinetobacter, MRSA, MDR/XDR-TB, Aspergillus are major health challenges that require better diagnostics and new drugs. Furthermore, microbial threats from the nefarious release of biological agents are sobering reminders of our vulnerability and the need to develop new countermeasures. To combat these issues, we must expand the limits of our research horizon and translate the fruits these efforts to directly impact patient care and global public health.
PHRI has made understanding and overcoming global infectious diseases its primary mission. For seven decades, PHRI has addressed the challenges posed by infectious diseases. Its 21 independent laboratories and 130+ scientists and support staff pursue a range of basic science and translational programs on bacteria, fungi and viruses, including studies of vaccine and therapeutic development, molecular and sera diagnostics, immunology, microbial genomics, molecular epidemiology, drug resistance, enzymology, genetic recombination and cell competence.
PHRI was established in New York City seven decades ago as a freestanding research institute that emphasized the application of basic science knowledge to address major health issues. In 2002, PHRI moved to the International Center for Public Health (ICPH), a specialized facility for infectious diseases research on the Newark campus of the New Jersey Medical School (NJMS). In December 2006, PHRI was acquired by UMDNJ (Now Rutgers University) and formally established as a strategic research Center within NJMS; all PHRI faculty members hold academic appointments at NJMS and Rutgers University.
PHRI operates a $21+ million research budget derived from numerous NIH grants/subcontracts (48+) and research contracts (20+), including the Bill & Melinda Gates and other foundations, Pharma and biotech. The development of focused areas of excellence in fields such as TB, HIV, fungal infections and drug resistance has been an important and highly successful strategic direction for PHRI.
PHRI hosts a leading global TB research program, which has attracted more than $70 million in research funds over the past decade. The HIV program includes world-class investigators with grants exceeding $20 million, and studies of bacterial and fungal drug resistance will exceed $40 million over the next 5 years. A new $26.7 million NIH grant to establish a Center of Excellence in Translational Research that seeks to develop new antibiotics will help jumpstart a depleted drug pipeline.
Science innovation has led to major inventions such as molecular beacons, T-Cell specific TB antigens, and licensing of PHRI intellectual property has accounted for $50 million in revenue over the past 10 years. Finally, PHRI operates the Rutgers Regional Biocontainment Laboratory (RBL), one of thirteen NIH designated national centers for the safe study of highly transmissible pathogenic agents.
PHRI is well positioned to enhance its vibrant research enterprise through strategic partnerships with Pharma and biotech, investments in infrastructure, core facilities and recruitment of world-class research faculty.
The future of biomedical research is clouded by uncertainties in funding from the federal government. Yet, we are optimistic that there will always be support for innovative science that has the potential to improve human health. It is this spirit of innovation, along with unwavering dedication, which has sustained research excellence at PHRI for many decades and will propel us into the future as a major global force in combating the threat of infectious diseases.