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A Bold and Ambitious Goal

Friday, December 2, 2016

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Dear Tulane Community,

One of the marks of a great research university is the positive impact it has on the health and well-being of its community – and the world. This was brought home to me yesterday when Tulane hosted the White House World AIDS Day LGBT Regional Summit, which featured U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy as well as several senior White House officials.

The summit provided an important opportunity to highlight federal and local services available to the LGBT community and to support the work of local LGBT activists and allies. We were also able to discuss what Tulane has done, and will continue to do, in pursuing research and outreach to combat HIV/AIDS, including our role as one of only three sites in the country selected by the National Institutes of Health to test promising, pre-clinical AIDS vaccines.

In addition to being a leader in AIDS research, we are in the process of identifying other worldwide threats, especially those whose names and virulence are yet unknown. How do we protect humanity from these? Currently, a patchwork of academic, commercial and government entities with little coordination addresses this monumental challenge, typically taking 20 years and spending more than $1 billion to develop a single vaccine.

Tulane hopes to vastly improve this process. We are currently pursuing funding to become one of the few institutions in the world capable of quickly responding to infectious diseases in a comprehensive way that includes early detection before diseases are widely known. This requires tracking and evaluating their risk as well as developing vaccines and treatments that will prevent them from becoming a global threat.

In the past, infectious disease research was conducted primarily by individual scientists working in their specialized field within isolated laboratories. Today, we know that collaboration among researchers and scholars from the widest imaginable array of disciplines and fields of inquiry holds the greatest promise of success.

This is why the "detection through product" model we are developing will feature multi-discipline research teams joining global partners in the surveillance of emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases. These teams will use computer modeling to map outbreaks and estimate the risks of future ones. Harnessing the efforts and expertise of Tulane scientists from myriad fields, we will also develop medicines and vaccines against these diseases in a new FDA-approved manufacturing facility at the New Orleans Bioinnovation Center.

The vaccines and treatments developed in this process will undergo testing through our long-established system of clinical trials and, with the help of corporate and philanthropic partners, be delivered at the lowest possible price to those who need them the most. We will also share our "detection to product" model so that it can be replicated by other institutions worldwide.

This is a bold and ambitious goal, but one that I believe Tulane is uniquely qualified for and, indeed, called to fulfill. We are the only university in the United States with the combination of schools of medicine, public health, science and engineering, a national primate research center, a regional biosafety laboratory and a proven track record of conducting clinical trials of new drugs. The increased travel, trade, tourism and immigration that have led to the globalization of the business world has also transformed healthcare. Through the global reach of our research-focused schools, Tulane is well positioned to become a leader in combating infectious diseases worldwide.

Tulane's history and unique capabilities bring both the opportunity and responsibility to improve the human condition in dramatic, meaningful and enduring ways. Because of our past, we have the ability to shape the future. All of us have a role to play in this mission, along with a stake in its success.

 

Signature of Mike Fitts