A new venture initially focused on developing candidate AIDS vaccines on-site at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) was launched today with the unveiling and dedication of the granite cornerstone of NIH's new vaccine research center. The cornerstone is dedicated to immunization advocates Dale Bumpers, the former senator from Arkansas, and his wife Betty. By an act of Congress, the building has been named the Dale and Betty Bumpers Vaccine Research Center.
Two years ago in his commencement address at Morgan State University in Baltimore, President Clinton asked the nation to commit to developing a vaccine against AIDS within the next 10 years. He also announced plans to establish the new vaccine research center on the NIH campus. Today, the President joined HHS Secretary Donna E. Shalala, NIH Director Harold E. Varmus., M.D., and members of Congress in an official ceremony dedicating the building to house the new center.
"No two American citizens have done more than Dale and Betty Bumpers to promote the importance of immunization as the key to public health," Secretary Shalala said. "It is extremely fitting that a center devoted to finding new vaccines against AIDS and other diseases be dedicated to them."
"We are delighted to cast in stone a legacy to the Bumpers' sustained efforts to promote vaccination and vaccine research," commented Dr. Varmus. "Early on, they recognized that the power of vaccines as a tool for improving public health has no equal."
The VRC building, now under construction, will house under one NIH roof the largest number of researchers dedicated to making vaccines. Their initial goal, pairing a formidable research challenge and urgent global health problem, will be to develop candidate vaccines against HIV. In 1998, approximately 16,000 new HIV infections occurred worldwide each day. More than 95 percent of these new infections occurred in developing countries.
The building has been designed to encompass the entire spectrum of vaccine research, from basic research up through product development, and will include facilities to produce small lots of experimental vaccines suitable for clinical trials. Construction of the five-story building is scheduled to be completed by middle of next year.
At full capacity, the VRC will employ about 100 scientists and support staff led by Director Gary Nabel, M.D., Ph.D. Dr. Nabel has been an innovator in research on gene therapy for AIDS. More recently, he has led efforts to develop novel vaccine strategies against cancer and the Ebola virus. Through a network of national and international collaborations, he plans for VRC staff to work synergistically with other vaccine research groups at NIH and in academia and industry.
A unique venture within the NIH intramural research program, the VRC receives joint funding from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI), and is spearheaded by NIAID, NCI and the NIH Office of AIDS Research. The fiscal year 1999 budget for the VRC is $16.5 million.
The Clinton/Gore Administration has responded aggressively to the significant threat posed by HIV/AIDS with increased attention to research, prevention and treatment. NIH funding for AIDS vaccine research has increased 100 percent since FY1995.
NIH has a long and fruitful history of vaccine research. New or improved vaccines against Rocky Mountain spotted fever, typhus fever and yellow fever count among the earliest successful vaccines developed by intramural NIH scientists. More recent contributions include vaccines against adenovirus, used to protect military recruits against serious respiratory illness; a vaccine against Haemophilus influenzae type b, formerly the leading cause of bacterial meningitis; an acellular pertussis vaccine for whooping cough; a hepatitis A vaccine; and last year's triumph, a vaccine against severe rotavirus diarrhea.
A Long-Standing Commitment to Immunization Senator Dale Bumpers is best known for his long and distinguished career in public service in the U.S. Senate and his home state of Arkansas. Prior to becoming a U.S. Senator, Senator Bumpers was elected Governor in 1970 and served two terms. During his first term as Governor, his wife Betty first sparked his interest in the cause of childhood vaccination.
Bumpers was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1974. Throughout his 24-year career in Congress, he was the acknowledged leader on immunization issues. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, he worked hard to increase funding for efforts to improve and purchase vaccines for childhood diseases like measles, mumps, whooping cough and polio, and to develop new vaccines against diseases like bacterial meningitis.
During the 1980s, his crusade on behalf of cost-effective immunization programs often resulted in Congress approving amounts above the Administration's requests. During the measles epidemic of 1989-1991, he rallied his colleagues by calling the 27,000 cases of measles in 1990 "both shameful and totally avoidable," and noting that there had been more deaths from measles in one year than there were combat deaths in the Persian Gulf. He was among the first immunization advocates to recognize the importance of requiring proof of immunization at school entry; reaching children through other programs such as cash assistance and the Women, Infants and Children feeding program; and focusing on children under two.
Throughout his Senate career, Senator Bumpers was also a champion of the National Institutes of Health, and an advocate of funds to fight HIV/AIDS. His support for appropriations for NIH helped answer fundamental questions about HIV/AIDS, and also supported research and development activities on vaccines generally.
Betty Bumpers has also dedicated her life to issues affecting children's health. When she became the First Lady of Arkansas, the state had one of the lowest immunization rates in the nation. Mrs. Bumpers spearheaded a system for childhood vaccinations that became a national model, and the state achieved one of the highest immunization rates in the country.
After her husband's election to the Senate, Betty Bumpers continued to work on immunization issues with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the wives of other state governors, including Rosalynn Carter of Georgia. Upon Jimmy Carter's election as president, Mrs. Bumpers contacted the new administration, explained the deficits in the country's immunization program, and urged that something be done to improve the situation. Her advocacy, and that of Rosalynn Carter, led to the federal government's first comprehensive childhood immunization initiative, which was launched in 1977 and was based on the successful state program adopted in Arkansas when Bumpers was governor. The efforts of Mrs. Bumpers and Mrs. Carter also led to laws, now in every state, requiring certain vaccinations before entry into school. As a result of these laws, more than 95 percent of American children are immunized by the time they go to school, and once- common diseases are now rare.
In 1991, Mrs. Bumpers and Rosalynn Carter started a campaign called "Every Child by Two." For the past eight years, the organization has worked to ensure that all children in America are immunized on schedule from birth to age 2, and that immunization delivery is institutionalized nationwide. In recent years, Betty Bumpers also has worked on the global campaign to eradicate polio.
Increasing the number of children immunized was one of the earliest priorities of the Clinton/Gore Administration. The President's initiative addressed five key areas: improving the quality and quantity of immunization services; reducing vaccine costs for parents; increasing community participation, education and partnerships; improving systems for monitoring diseases and vaccinations; and improving vaccines and vaccine use.
Overall, funding for childhood immunization has more than doubled since FY 1993. And in July 1997, President Clinton and Secretary Shalala announced that the Administration's Childhood Immunization Initiative had met its first goal: having 90 percent of America's children receiving the most critical doses of vaccines by age two.
Press releases, fact sheets and other NIAID-related materials are available on the NIAID Web site at http://www.niaid.nih.gov.
TV PRODUCERS AND REPORTERS: A video B-roll, including sound bites of President Clinton's Morgan State University address, is available. For more information, call the NIAID Office of Communications at 301-402-1663. Note: The ceremony will be broadcast live on the NIH Web site at http://webcast.nih.gov.