Moving Science

Southern Research and Galveston National Laboratory to Develop High-Throughput Screening Platform in Biosafety Level-4 Laboratory

May 2, 2012

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Southern Research today announced that it will collaborate with the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston to develop and validate a high-volume, high-throughput screening platform in their Galveston National Laboratory (GNL). High-throughput screening (HTS) involves the process of rapidly screening and testing large numbers of different chemical compounds against select disease targets. This collaboration will provide the means to perform disease screening in the highest level of biocontainment laboratory—Biosafety Level 4 (BSL-4)—to look for new therapeutics to use against viruses that pose public health and biodefense threats.

“Combining our strengths and the expertise of Southern Research and the Galveston National Laboratory will create a research environment that is uniquely positioned to address emerging public health threats, to better understand the pathogens involved, and to find solutions for controlling the situation,” said Mark J. Suto, PhD, vice president of Drug Discovery at Southern Research.

“The GNL is uniquely situated for exactly this type of research partnership,” said James W. LeDuc, Ph.D., director of the GNL. “This work represents the next phase of disease therapy discovery.” UTMB is home to one of the most extensive academic biocontainment research enterprises (BSL-2, -3 and -4 labs) in the U.S. Researchers in the GNL at UTMB are focused on discovering new treatments, techniques and vaccines against high consequence diseases.

Southern Research, which operates two BSL-3 facilities, has years of experience developing and adapting assays to HTS formats and then executing screens in one of those BSL-3 labs using the safety protocols required for higher biocontainment levels. Southern Research first developed its BSL-3 HTS platform more than seven years ago in response the SARS outbreak and the federal government’s request to increase screening and drug discovery in infectious diseases. Since then, Southern Research has successfully performed multiple 100,000-plus compound screening campaigns in BSL-3 high containment.

Both Southern Research and the GNL are registered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service to conduct studies involving select agents. Southern Research scientists will extend their high containment capabilities by collaborating with GNL scientists who have expertise working with hemorrhagic fever viruses, viruses for which there are no approved small molecule drugs, nor U.S. licensed vaccines. Researchers at both institutions will benefit from this collaborative effort to facilitate and enhance screening for candidate compounds that are effective against highly-pathogenic viruses.

“The demand for new therapeutics and targets against high mortality hemorrhagic fever viruses is important in areas of the world in which these pathogens are endemic, and for biodefense reasons,” said James D. Noah, PhD, manager of Virology at Southern Research.

“Being able to exploit high-throughput screening options against diseases like Ebola and Nipah viruses in a BSL-4 lab in an academic setting is quite a unique opportunity,” added GNL director of High Containment Operations Thomas G. Ksiazek, PhD, DVM.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website, the term “viral hemorrhagic fever” is used to describe diseases in which the vascular system is damaged. Symptoms are often accompanied by hemorrhage (bleeding); however, the bleeding is itself rarely life-threatening. While some types of hemorrhagic fever viruses can cause relatively mild illnesses, many of these viruses cause severe, life-threatening disease.

About Southern Research

Southern Research Institute is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) scientific research organization founded in 1941 that conducts preclinical drug discovery and development in cancer, infectious diseases and CNS disorders; advanced engineering research in materials, systems development, and environment and energy research. More than 550 scientific and engineering team members support clients and partners in the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, defense, aerospace, environmental and energy industries. Southern Research is headquartered in Birmingham, Ala., with facilities in Wilsonville, Ala., Frederick, Md., and Durham, NC and offices in Huntsville, Ala., New Orleans, La., and Washington, DC.

About the Galveston National Laboratory

The Galveston National Laboratory is an academic research facility located on the campus of the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. One of the largest and most sophisticated biocontainment laboratories in the United States, the GNL conducts basic and applied research utilizing the unique resources of its BSL-2, -3 and -4 containment facilities to discover novel diagnostics, therapeutics and preventatives for some of the world’s most threatening infectious diseases. GNL scientists work collaboratively with experts from around the world to make fundamental discoveries and translate this knowledge into useful products for global applications. The GNL was dedicated in 2008, is AAALAC accredited and is approved to handle select agents.


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