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Sabin Vaccine Institute partners with King Saud University to build vaccine research and development capacity in Saudi Arabia
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 25 - 06 - 2016

The Sabin Vaccine Institute is partnering with King Saud University (KSU) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to advance vaccine research and development capacity in the Middle East and North Africa. As part of the new $6.6 million agreement, Saudi scientists will receive technical training in vaccine development at the Sabin Vaccine Institute Product Development Partnership (Sabin PDP) laboratories in Houston, Texas.
The five-year pilot project will focus on training activities that could lead to vaccine development for major and emerging neglected diseases and parasitic infections in the region such as leishmaniasis and MERS coronavirus.
In collaboration with the Prince Naif Bin Abdulaziz Health Research Center at King Saud University and Baylor College of Medicine, the goal of the project is to equip KSU with a pool of well-trained scientists who can then accelerate the development, production and characterization of vaccines suitable for clinical testing in their home country.
"There is a need to create regional capacity for developing vaccines that target major neglected and infectious diseases in the region, such as MERS coronavirus infection and leishmaniasis, among others," said Dr. Peter Hotez, president of Sabin, director of the Sabin PDP, Texas Children's Hospital Endowed Chair in Tropical Pediatrics and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. "We are especially concerned with neglected diseases emerging out of the conflict zones in Syria and Iraq, as well as Libya and Yemen, for which there is an urgent need to develop new vaccines," he added. Dr. Maria Elena Bottazzi, who also heads Sabin PDP activities will take on a leadership role in project operations.
"The partnership with Sabin is a significant step in building Saudi Arabia's vaccine research and development infrastructure," said Professor Badran Al-Omar, Rector of King Saud University. "KSU is building a lab as well as a clinical trial unit and will train technicians and scientists following the Sabin model."
With more than 15 years of research and development experience, Sabin has advanced first-of-their-kind vaccines for schistosomiasis and hookworm to Phase 1 clinical trials. At Sabin's laboratories, in partnership with Texas Children's Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine, researchers are now developing preventative vaccine candidates for a number of other neglected tropical diseases, including cutaneous leishmaniasis. The Syrian refugee crisis has precipitated an outbreak of the disease, which is now widespread in the conflict zones of the Middle East and North Africa.
"Multinational pharmaceutical companies are unlikely to invest in research for regional diseases in the Middle East such as MERS coronavirus. We saw this situation when Ebola vaccines were not developed until there was a pandemic. We need new vaccines developed, tested, and possibly stockpiled." said Dr. Hotez.
"Building biotechnology capacity for vaccines that specifically target diseases in the region will not only distinguish Saudi Arabia as a regional leader but contribute to the safety and security of the region," said Joseph Westphal, US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia.
"This is precisely the outcome we look for from the US Science Envoy Program: Engaging a broad community, identifying opportunities for sustained international cooperation in science and technology, raising awareness and building the partnerships that advance our policy objectives," said Catherine Novelli, Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment.
The partnership between Sabin and KSU is a significant result of the US Science Envoy program. Dr. Hotez was named a US Science Envoy to the Middle East and North Africa, with a focus on Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Tunisia, in January 2015 as part of the United States' commitment to science, technology, and innovation as tools of diplomacy and economic growth. As an envoy, Dr. Hotez travels to the region with the goal of building and strengthening research collaboration networks between scientists and engineers in the United States. Progress is also being made to increase regional capacity for vaccine development in Morocco and Tunisia. The US Science Envoy Program was launched in 2009 by President Barack Obama following his historic "new beginnings" speech in Cairo, Egypt.
The Prince Naif Bin Abdul Aziz Health Research Center, or PNHRC, is relatively new health research center that is considered as one of the initiatives launched by King Saud University to cope with country's development plans, to become a knowledge-based economy. It comes as the main research arm of the prestigious and well respected King Saud University Medical City (the collective name for the university's hospitals). Its main mission is to provide the infrastructure and the manpower to support and develop the research ideas, which serve the scientific research and contribute in providing solutions for the health problems in the Kingdom.
The Sabin Vaccine Institute (Sabin) is a non-profit organization dedicated to reducing needless human suffering from vaccine-preventable and neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) worldwide. Sabin develops new vaccines, advocates for increased use of existing vaccines and promotes expanded access to affordable medical treatments in collaboration with governments, academic institutions, scientists, medical professionals and non-profit organizations. Sabin's research and development of new vaccines is conducted through the Sabin Vaccine Institute Product Development Partnership, based at the Sabin Vaccine Institute and Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development in partnership with Baylor College of Medicine. Sabin works with leading private, academic and public institutions around the world to develop and test safe, effective and low-cost vaccines that benefit the world's poorest communities.
Through the Science Envoy Program, eminent US scientists and engineers engage internationally at the citizen and government levels to develop partnerships, improve collaboration, and forge mutually beneficial relationships between other nations and the United States to stimulate increased scientific cooperation and foster economic prosperity. Science Envoys travel as private citizens and help inform the White House, the Department of State, and the scientific community about potential opportunities for cooperation.

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