Members from the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, joined fellow researchers for the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene 71st Annual Meeting, Oct. 30 to Nov. 3.
The annual meeting brought together health professionals from around the globe representing academia, foundations, government, not for profit organizations, the private sector, military, and private practice. This year’s meeting marked the return of in-person presentations and attendance, following two years of virtual participation due to precautions related to the pandemic.
“ASTMH is an incredibly valuable opportunity for our scientists to share their own work as well as learn about the work of other leaders in the field,” said Dr. Karen Peterson, the chief science officer for WRAIR. “Diseases such as dengue and malaria have proven to be incredibly difficult to defeat, but in addition to making important contributions to work in these areas, WRAIR has demonstrated a long-term dedication to developing better countermeasures for these and other, emerging diseases across the globe.”
Members from WRAIR held several speaking engagements and poster presentations throughout the week, covering the latest research from dengue, Zika, SARS-CoV-2, malaria and more. One of the symposiums focused on the structure-based development of second-generation circumsporozoite protein (CSP)-based vaccines, which allowed vaccinologists and epidemiologists to come together and discuss updates to malaria vaccines that may result in candidates better than the one currently approved to control malaria.
“It was great to highlight the institute’s efforts in this area and present data on the immune-broadened FMP013/ALFQ vaccine that completed a phase 1 efficacy trials in September,” said Dr. Sheetij Dutta, Biologics Research and Development Branch, chief of the Structural Vaccinology Laboratory. “The immune-focused vaccine TMV-NPNAx5 is now under development and is slated to go into Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) production in 2023. Several groups were interested in our TMV technology and further contacts are being pursued.”
Additionally, Lt. Col. Paul Robben, Biologics Research Branch, chief clinical investigator presented an oral abstract titled Soluble PfCSP (FMP013) adjuvanted in ALFQ induces sterile protection in phase 1 trial with Controlled Human Malaria Infection Challenge in malaria-naïve adults.
“This was the first public dissemination of our study’s preliminary results, and the findings were well received by the scientific community,” Robben said. “COVID-19’s impacts on vaccine development will be felt for many years and our results help to demonstrate the DOD research enterprise is an active participant in that innovation.”
Robben noted that there were many new findings of significant importance presented during the conference from a broad swath of highly respected personalities across the spectrum of disciplines, which comprise tropical medicine.
“Government laboratories pursue designated lines of effort and industry, and academia’s activities reflect their specific interests, but it’s particularly clear at meetings such as ASTMH how the parties can all meet in the middle over the science, and collaboratively address their individual requirements while advancing the field for everyone,” Robben said.
He also noted how the data from his presentation complemented the immune-broadened FMP013/ALFQ vaccine symposium session organized by Dutta.
“Robben’s presentation was very well received, and colleagues urged us to continue the development of this vaccine and to advance it to the field,” Dutta said.
A special memorial symposium was also held to recognize the contributions of Maj. Gen. (ret) Dr. Phil Russell, a former WRAIR commander and ASTMH president. Russell dedicated his life to infectious disease research through vaccines development and preserving global health. With more than 100 authored and co-authored research publications, establishing the Sabin Institute, and a principal advisor to many government, non-profit and professional organizations, ASTMH allowed a chance to remember his career which spanned 60 years.
“It was an honor to be reminded of his far-reaching contribution in dengue, Ebola and Zika virus epidemiology and vaccine development,” Dutta said.
According to the ASTMH website, there were 4,753 participants in-person and virtually, with 1,507 listed as first-time attendees. At the conclusion of the meeting, the researchers reflected on the overall experience.
“Over several decades, WRAIR has made many important contributions to viral, bacterial, and parasitic infection treatment and prevention,” Peterson said. “Conferences like these provides opportunities for scientists at all stages of their careers to network and build future collaborations, which is a critical part of how WRAIR meets its research mission.”