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 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, the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic, and new drug-resistant bacterial, fungal and viral threats continue to emerge each year.
The impact of infectious diseases is not limited to resource-limited countries or communities. Sexually transmitted diseases due to chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis are a major public health challenge in the United States with 19 million new infections occurring each year, almost half of them among young people. Each year 36,000 Americans die from seasonal influenza and more than 100,000 people die from hospital-acquired infections that are largely preventable. Emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases such as West Nile, measles, Clostridium difficile, drug resistant Klebsiella, Pseudomonas, Acinetobacter, MRSA, MDR/XDR-TB, Aspergillus and Candida, as well as unknown microbial threats from deliberate release are sobering reminders of our vulnerability. It is why we must continue to expand the limits of our research horizon.
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 120+ staff scientists 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 operates an approximately $20 million research budget derived from numerous NIH grants/subcontracts (45+) and research contracts (25+), including Gates and other foundations, pharma and biotech. PHRI is one of the leading tuberculosis research organizations in the world having attracted more than $70 million in research funds over the past decade. Most recently, the HIV program has expanded and includes 4 world class investigators with grants exceeding $20 million. Furthermore, 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 $35 million in revenue over the past 10 years.
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 UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School (NJMS). In December 2006, PHRI was acquired by UMDNJ and formally established as a strategic research Center within NJMS; all PHRI faculty members hold academic appointments at UMDNJ.
Today, 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. To this end, PHRI has recently recruited two outstanding faculty members in the fields of neuro-AIDS (Dr. Eliseo Eugenin) and pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of tuberculosis drugs (Dr. Véronique Dartois). 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.
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 that has sustained research excellence at PHRI for many decades and will propel us into the future as a major force in combating the threat of infectious diseases.