Infectious Disease Research Institute


Seattle scientists to test world’s first vaccine against ‘black fever’ – leishmaniasis | 


Boy with kala azar, viscerial leishmaniasis

There are many neglected diseases out there but not many as prevalent or as ravaging as visceral leishmaniasis, also known as black fever or kala azar — the ‘parasitic version of AIDS.’

Scientists at Seattle’s Infectious Disease Research Institute will soon begin testing an experimental vaccine they have designed to work against the most deadly form of this common parasitic disease spread by the bite of sand flies.

Leishmaniasis, in both its cutaneous (surface of the skin) and visceral (internal organ) forms, infects an estimated half million people every year on every continent except Australia and Antarctica. It is the second most common parasitic disease after malaria, but has until recently gotten little attention as a major global health problem.

Because the parasite attacks blood cells, immune system cells and also invades organs and bone marrow much like HIV, visceral leishmaniasis is sometimes called ‘parasitic AIDS.’

“Visceral leishmaniasis is a persistent and deadly global health problem,” said Steve Reed, IDRI founder and Chief Scientific Officer, who led the over twenty years of preclinical vaccine work. “Our partnership with India will speed the development of an effective vaccine and accelerate its control.”

The vaccine against visceral leishmaniasis (VL) that IDRI has created will be tested first for safety on 36 volunteers in Seattle and then the Phase I study will be expanded to sites in India, which suffers from a disproportionately high caseload of the disease.

The non-profit Seattle-based research organization has been working on leishmaniasis for decades but received a major boost in 2006 when the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation awarded IDRI $32 million to find a vaccine against VL, kala azar.

As part of the grant, the Gates Foundation requires research organizations also develop a plan to make vaccines or drugs affordable in poor countries.

To reduce costs of the new vaccine, should it prove effective, IDRI is transferring its vaccine technology to an Indian drug firm, Gennova Biopharmaceuticals. Gennova has already opened a vaccine development center in Pune, India, where the company is based.

“With this clinical trial, we hope to launch a new era in the fight against Visceral Leishmaniasis,” said Franco Piazza, Medical Director at IDRI and leader of the vaccine’s clinical development. “For the first time, an advanced vaccine to prevent this devastating disease is being tested in people.”

U.S. Armed Forces Pest Management

A sand fly bite

While leishmaniasis is treatable today, the treatments are fairly toxic, cumbersome and often too expensive to use in poor communities. Some 500,000 people get infected every year, with an estimate 50,000 deaths per year, and the disease appears to be spreading.

Just as with mosquitoes, sand flies that carry the parasite appear to be expanding their range worldwide due to climate change, migration and other global changes.

Partying with a purpose, looking for an impact | 

Tom Paulson

Partying with a Purpose

More than a thousand young (along with a few not-so-young) Seattleites got together Friday to eat, drink, dance, schmooze and Party with a Purpose.

Seattle’s second annual Party with a Purpose was at McCaw Hall, a sold-out affair put on by the Washington Global Health Alliance. The event is intended to raise awareness of a number of efforts by local global health organizations and assist in the fight against diseases of poverty around the world — this year focused on tuberculosis.

“We have a global health movement among young people in Seattle,” said Kristen Eddings, lead organizer of the event for WGHA. “A party can’t change the world … But it can support and seed the change.”

Can it? Can throwing a glam party really help fight poverty and disease in poor countries?

At a basic level, that of raising money, it did already. The event raised funds (about $35,000) to assist the Seattle-based Infectious Disease Research Institute in developing new methods aimed at fighting one of the world’s biggest killers – tuberculosis. This is substantially less than the party cost, but sponsors like the Gates Foundation, Glassybaby, Sightlife, the Seattle Center and others paid for that.

At the broader level of supporting a movement, does throwing a party actually raise awareness and increase understanding of critical issues in global health, the other aim of this event?

That’s not clear. It certainly shows that, in Seattle at least, global health is now popular and maybe even sexy. But whether or not this translates into truly understanding what global health is all about is hard to assess.

“We’re going to do a post-party survey to try to evaluate that,” said Becky Bartlein, one of the organizers of the event. Bartlein, a recent UW global health graduate and former Peace Corps volunteer who works on drug access in poor countries, is coordinating a post-party survey aimed at finding out and “keeping the party going.”

I did my own survey of participants — when I wasn’t dancing the “silent disco” or getting berated for misunderstanding what the party invitation meant by “cocktail attire” — and found a mixed reaction among the partygoers.

Tom Paulson

Silent disco fever

Everyone had a good time, and for some that was enough. I talked to quite a few people who thought the event was mostly a celebration of the local biomedical and biotech industry. Others who work on poverty and disease in poor countries said they were concerned that such a posh party sent a confused message — celebrating the kind of rich world extravagance that actually contributes to global poverty and inequity.

I put these concerns to Eddings, Bartlein and other co-organizers of the event (who all seem to be beautiful young women, for some reason).

“There’s more than one way to fight poverty,” Eddings said. Many of those who attend the party might not go to a lecture or watch a documentary about the fight against AIDS, TB or malaria in Africa, she said. “We can’t always be trying to ‘guilt’ people into caring or getting involved.”

Bartlein, who worked in Senegal with the Peace Corps, said partying is a universal method for building purpose.

“When I worked in these poor communities, a party was always one of the best ways to bring people together,” she said. “Do we really think poor people would fault us for having a good time while also drawing attention to their needs? Celebrating is how humans connect to each other.”


Party with a Purpose almost sold out! | 

Okay, you don’t have much more time.

Party with a Purpose is almost sold out. This Friday’s event, sponsored by the Washington Global Health Alliance, is aimed at bringing together mostly young people (and some old people like me) to eat, drink, be merry and focus on a particular global health issue.

Tom Paulson

Last year's Party with a (Poop) Purchase

Last year, they boldly based their social event on diarrhea; this year, it’s tuberculosis and the work of Seattle’s Infectious Disease Research Institute.

It’s more evidence of what I contend is a Millennials’ do-gooder revolution.

“This year’s event will be much more geared toward providing people with opportunities to engage,” said Kristen Eddings, lead organizer of the event for the WGHA. For example, Eddings said, the event will educate attendees about the Global Health Corps and encourage them to apply.

But the event isn’t limited only to those looking for a career in global health, she said. The idea is to provide an entertaining opportunity for anyone to simply come learn more about these issues, find causes to support or get involved as a volunteer. The focus this year is on bringing more public attention to a local effort that few seem aware of, the work done on TB by the Infectious Disease Research Institute.

“We’ve been lousy about getting our story out,” said Curt Malloy, senior vp at IDRI. The research organization, founded in 1993, explores novel approaches to vaccines and therapeutics.

Last fall, as reported by the Seattle Times, IDRI announced plans to begin clinical testing on a new TB vaccine — aimed at boosting the efficacy of the current vaccine. The Seattle firm also recently started testing a vaccine against leischmaniasis in the Sudan and is working on developing faster, cheaper TB diagnostic tests.

Party with a Purpose will also raise money to support IDRI’s research. It may not be enough to fund a vaccine trial. But that’s okay; the sponsors like the Gates Foundation, Sightlife, Vulcan and others are picking up the cost of the shindig so all the proceeds go to assist with IDRI’s work and every little bit helps.

The idea is to increase awareness of what’s going on in Seattle and why we’re now a global health epicenter.

Pre-Party with a Purpose | 

What is the best way to get hundreds of the young, smart and beautiful people of Seattle to pay more attention to a deadly bacterial illness that kills millions of people around the world?


Tom Paulson

Pre-Party with a Purpose

That’s right. Party with a Purpose.

I can reveal at this point that it will be June 17, McCaw Hall and likely big. (The official unveiling, also when the tickets go on sale, is April 11)

Last year, when this event was first launched, it was all about raising money to help fight a deadly form of diarrhea. As I wrote then, only in global-health-fevered Seattle would young people be able to hold a spectacularly successful party with the theme being diarrhea.

This year, Party with a Purpose is targeting tuberculosis in partnership with a local research organization working on TB, the Infectious Disease Research Institute.

Thursday evening at the South Lake Union Discovery Center, organizers, sponsors and other supporters of the event gathered for a little pre-party gathering to get ready for the big shindig. One of the prime movers of Party with a Purpose, Kristen Eddings, with the Washington Global Health Alliance, spoke briefly.

“Seattle is the city that heals,” said Eddings. The goal for this year is to double attendance (to 1,000 people) aimed at building community and getting more people informed and engaged when it comes to global health matters.

Last year’s Party with a Purpose, Eddings said, raised $13,000 to help get oral rehydration kits out to many poor communities in Kenya. This year, she said, the goal is help fund research and get rapid TB tests out to needy communities.

So stay tuned for the big announcement Monday. I bet they sell out again.

Sponsors of this year’s TB bash so far include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Glassybaby, Sightlife, Vulcan, Swedish Hospital & Medical Center, Berk & Associates and eBioscience.