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Middle Atlantic Regional Center of Excellence for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases Research

Events that occurred in the first decade of the millennium led civil society, governments at national, state and local levels, and the scientific and medical communities in the United States to recognize that they must grapple with two broad infectious diseases threats that menace the U.S. population: natural “emerging infections” and the potential deliberate release of pathogens by nefarious individuals bent on causing terror.  This led to a realization of the desirability of developing broad-based approaches to prevent, diagnose and treat infectious diseases.  The Middle Atlantic Regional Center of Excellence for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases Research (MARCE) undertook to harness and focus the extraordinary wealth of scientific ingenuity, innovation and investigator experience that resides within the institutions of the Middle Atlantic Region to address these issues and to lay the foundation for the rational development of broad-based preventive, therapeutic and diagnostic interventions.  The MARCE has been funded by the NIAID through two cycles of funding (“MARCE-1” and “MARCE-2”).

Myron M. Levine, MD, DTPH, Simon and Bessie Grollman Distinguished Professor and Director of the Center for Vaccine Development at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, has served as Director and Principal Investigator of the Program during both MARCE-1 and MARCE-2.  In the early years of MARCE-1, Dr. Donald Burke (Johns Hopkins University) was the Co-Director but in the later years of MARCE-1 and throughout MARCE-2, Dr. Alison O’Brien (USUHS) served as Co-Director.  The theme of MARCE-1 was “Defense against Bioterror and Emerging Infection Agents”, while the theme of MARCE-2 was “Emgerging Pathogen-Host Interactions”.

MARCE-1 had six focused interactive Research Programs: Anthrax; Emerging Viruses; Poxviruses; Tularemia; Low-Dose Enteric Pathogens; and Public Health Response.  Seventeen institutions played major partner roles in MARCE-1 and > 60 investigators were involved.  MARCE-2 had five Programs: Interaction of Emerging Viruses with Host Cell Pathways; Virus Entry into Cells: Strategies for Inhibition; Bacteria and Protozoa that Invade or Cause Disease via the Mucosa; Interactions of Toxins with Host Cells; and Diagnostics: Development, Support and Discovery.  More than 40 investigators from 15 institutions played major roles in MARCE-2.

 A plethora of high impact publications resulted from the research efforts of the MARCE investigators, leaving an objective legacy.  In addition, several candidate vaccine and diagnostic products progressed to the point where they were taken up by industrial developers.  One product, Equivac® HeV, became the first licensed and commercially deployed vaccine against a BSL-4 agent.  However, there were several other aspects of the MARCE experience that must not be lost.  First and foremost was the extraordinary interactive nature of the MARCE research that shattered traditional institutional barriers and past regional competitive attitudes and re-forged them into new highly productive collaborations.  MARCE is also proud of its very active educational program that included an innovative public-private course on “Product Process Development and Understanding GMP” (in collaboration with Sanofi Pasteur Vaccines and Merck Vaccines).  MARCE also had an active seminar series coordinated by Professor Michael Greenberger and Earl Stoddard, U of Maryland Law School, who brought together public health practitioners from the state, county and municipal level in the region to interact with MARCE investigators.