Biodefense Panel recommends vaccines-on-demand approach developed by URI professor

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PROVIDENCE – October 29, 2015 – A report released yesterday by the U.S. Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense identified “serious gaps and inadequacies that continue to leave the nation vulnerable to biothreats.” The report on the state of national biodefense calls for a dramatic change in the government’s approach to biodefense and pandemic preparedness, including the development of technologies that can produce “vaccines-on-demand” like those pioneered by URI Professor Annie De Groot at her a vaccine design firm EpiVax.

The report also called for other steps recommended by De Groot in testimony she gave to the panel.

In her testimony, De Groot argued that a platform-based vaccines-on-demand approach would be more responsive to current biothreat scenarios than expensive, wasteful stockpiles. The Blue Ribbon Panel noted that terrorists already possess the ability to produce “genetically engineered pathogens” that merge the toxic attributes of more than one agent, meaning that stockpiling vaccines against single agents is a concept that is now obsolete.

“We congratulate the Blue Ribbon Study Panel on their comprehensive review and echo their call for prioritizing innovation over incrementalism in the development of medical countermeasures. Lives are at stake and money is being wasted on products and processes that simply do not work. As this report shows, there is a better way,” said De Groot.

De Groot, director of URI’s Institute for Immunology and Informatics, has been at the forefront of the “vaccines-on-demand” movement for the past decade. Her company uses special computer driven tools to speed the process of vaccine development, and EpiVax scientists have already created several such vaccines for the Department of Defense.

De Groot, named one of the Top 50 Vaccine Influencers in the world in 2014, testified to the Blue Ribbon Panel about her technology last May. Basing her recommendations on her nearly three decades of experience with the vaccine industry, she made the following recommendations:

  • Require that the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, an office of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, devote no less than 10 percent of its annual budget to funding new, innovative technologies that will lead to faster response and recovery than current vaccines achieve.
  • Fix the Small Business Innovative Research program at the National Institutes of Health, prioritizing innovation over incrementalism in medical countermeasures development.
  • Encourage the Federal Drug Administration to develop a strategy for approving platform approaches to making “vaccines on demand.”
  • Invest in innovator research in the United States.

  • The Institute for Immunology and Informatics at the URI Providence Campus is working on vaccines for several diseases prevalent in developing countries. It also makes its vaccine design tools available at no cost to those working on the development of vaccines for infectious diseases of global health importance.

    The Blue Ribbon Panel was established in 2014 to provide a comprehensive assessment of the state of national biodefense efforts. Four public meetings were convened in Washington, D.C., on biological and chemical threat awareness, prevention and protection, surveillance and detection, and response and recovery. The establishment of the panel followed concerns raised by members of the 2008 Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, which noted that the nation was poorly prepared for any terrorist event involving a biologic weapon. The commission urged the nation to develop tools to counter that threat.

    The panel’s biodefense report can be found at