Headley Column: Infectious Disease Supercluster and MicroRx

Note to Editors: Todd Headley is director of Technology Transfer for the Colorado State University Research Foundation.

In an effort to break down the layers of organization and terminology in CSU’s technology transfer process, last month we discussed the relationships between CSU, the Colorado State University Research Foundation (CSURF) and CSU Ventures. Within CSU and CSU Ventures, there exist three Superclusters and their affiliated enterprise arms: MicroRx, NeoTREX and Cenergy. The first Supercluster, launched in early 2007, is focused on infectious disease with MicroRx serving as the accompanying business arm.

The Infectious Disease Supercluster includes approximately 150 faculty and research staff and many internationally recognized research programs. These programs receive roughly $40 million in annual research funding in such key areas as mycobacterial diseases, vector-borne diseases, prion diseases, food safety, plant pathology, and biodefense and emerging pathogens.

Mycobacterial disease research is focused on tuberculosis (more than 2 billion people carry the bacterium for tuberculosis) and leprosy, and is centered in the Mycobacterial Disease Research Laboratories within the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. This group has earned international recognition for drug discovery, diagnostics, vaccine development, physiology of the pathogen, and elucidation of the pathogenesis of the mycobacterial diseases.

Arthropod-borne (mosquitoes, fleas and ticks) pathogens and diseases include Dengue virus, yellow fever, West Nile virus, Lyme disease and malaria. Dengue fever alone puts more than 2.5 billion people worldwide at risk for the infection resulting in more that 50 million new cases occur annually. CSU’s Arthropod-borne Infectious Disease Laboratory (AIDL) is a facility with state-of-the-art containment laboratories for researchers to conduct experiments involving various vectors and vector-borne pathogens. As with the mycobacterial diseases, there is a focus to develop new vaccines, therapeutics and rapid clinical and field diagnostic assays.

An important and emerging area of research is related to food safety. Food-borne illnesses in the United States alone affect approximately 76 million people per year, resulting in nearly 5,000 deaths. A recent multi-state outbreak of Salmonella now likely linked to jalape?o peppers is a good example of such an illness. Major initiatives for research in food safety within the Infectious Disease Supercluster include organisms such as E. coli O157:H7, Listeria, Salmonella, Campylobacter and Staphylococcus.

The U.S. government is leveraging CSU’s substantial infectious disease capabilities through two recent and ongoing initiatives in the NIH-funded Rocky Mountain Regional Center of Excellence for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases Research and the Rocky Mountain Regional Biocontainment Laboratory.  They employ the research capabilities of affiliated universities, federal laboratories and companies to discover, develop and deploy products and solutions to protect the public from bioterrorism and naturally emerging infectious disease threats.  The disease focus includes viral hemorrhagic and encephalitic diseases, avian influenza, tularemia and plague.  

In addition to the research being conducted within the Infectious Disease Supercluster, there are other facilities and resources at CSU that are critical to the successful development of new products.  The Product Development and Manufacturing Core provides the infrastructure and services to develop and manufacture vaccine, diagnostic and therapeutic products sufficient for early stage human clinical trials. The PDM Core has the capability to manufacture products under current Good Manufacturing Practice control systems that meet the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulatory standards for manufacturing and quality control testing.  Another important resource is the Animal Models Core which develops and characterizes animal models of bacterial, viral and fungal diseases.  Personnel are able to partner with qualified investigators, organizations and companies with interest in supporting efforts to evaluate vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics.

In order to bring this great avalanche of research and development prowess at CSU forward, MicroRx is charged with developing transformative research collaborations, and efficiently moving discoveries made by CSU faculty and staff to market through technology licensing and formation of startup companies.  The overarching goal of the Infectious Disease Supercluster and MicroRx is to rapidly translate research discoveries into products that alleviate the human and economic burdens caused by infectious disease.