GEN Daniel Allyn, the 35th Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, LTG Patricia Horoho, the Army Surgeon General, and MG Brian Lein, the Commanding General of the US Medical Research and Materiel Command, visited WRAIR on Wednesday, May 20. We were honored to host these guests to provide a more comprehensive look into our critical research as well as our unique capabilities, which made us an important contributor in the Ebola response this past fall.
Prior to GEN Allyn’s arrival, LTG Horoho arrived at the WRAIR specifically to address WRAIR’s female Soldiers. LTG Horoho spoke about her personal and professional experience as a woman, a Soldier, a nurse, a spouse and a mother. LTG Horoho is the first woman and first nurse to serve as the Army Surgeon General. In addition to sharing her experiences and a few anecdotes, her words of wisdom touched on how we must prioritize and not separate our work and home lives. Her commanding yet humbling and welcoming presence left a lasting positive impression on our female Soldiers.
As GEN Allyn arrived, all involved with the visit met in WRAIR’s headquarter conference room. Senior scientists and Soldiers COLs Paris, Lesho, and Keiser were present to brief our visitors on their areas of expertise, respectfully on malaria, antibiotic resistance and the Multidrug Resistant Organism Surveillance Network (MRSN), and our licensed vaccine product development.
WRAIR has had tropical diseases, and their prevention and treatment, on the radar since the Spanish American War and the beginning of the Institute in 1893. The Military Malaria Research Program has taken part in the development of all currently approved antimalarial drugs and continues research for new drugs as antimalarial drug resistance of the malaria parasite looms as an enormous threat to Service Members and global health. WRAIR was instrumental in creating and testing RTS,S, what may be the first-ever licensed malaria vaccine, just as we continue the search for a more efficacious vaccine. The MRSN collects, catalogs, and characterizes multidrug resistant bacteria and other organisms and is part of the White House’s National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic-resistant Bacteria. WRAIR has licensed and continues to license products against infectious diseases, such as the adenovirus and Japanese Encephalitis vaccines, and is currently working with GlaxoSmithKline and others in the development of a dengue vaccine.
Infectious diseases, such as Ebola, are severe threats to national and global security. WRAIR understands this and responded immediately to combat this threatening disease. WRAIR’s Deputy Commander, COL Stephen Thomas and COL Neal Woollen from USAMRIID, provided a summary to the Army Medical researchers’ role in the development and initial clinical trial testing of VSV-EBOV, a promising Canadian Ebola vaccine candidate that safely showed immune response.
WRAIR’s Ebola response highlights our comprehensive research and development skills:
- We were approached by the US Defense Threat Reduction Agency to test VSV-EBOV because of our Clinical Trials Center.
- WRAIR’s Pilot Bioproduction Facility produced small lots of Ebola vaccines for testing.
- Our clinical study expert team pivoted to prioritize rapid review and safe conduct of this critical Ebola vaccine trial.
- WRAIR’s Clinical Trial Center hosted the efficacy and safety trial of VSV-EBOV, requiring the recruitment of volunteers, vaccination and follow-on visits, management of data collection, and communication between all partners involved in the clinical trial.
- WRAIR took part in Ebola response management (Operation United Assistantce) and WRAIR personnel deployed to West Africa during the Ebola outbreak.
Following the brief on WRAIR’s participation in the Ebola response, our guests toured WRAIR’s facilities and met with our senior scientists. WRAIR Commander COL Braverman gave a broad overview on WRAIR’s global presence and on our two Centers of Excellence- the Center for Infectious Diseases and the Center for Military Psychiatry and Neuroscience. Following the overview, the tour visited the Clinical Trials Center. COL Remich, head of the Clinical Trials Center, highlighted the highly productive relationship between the Pilot Bioproduction Facility and the Clinical Trials Center to manufacture and test vaccines and treatments for infectious diseases such as Ebola, malaria, influenza, dengue, and diarrheal diseases to name a few. The CTC enrolls about 350 volunteers each year for 13 to 15 clinical studies. In 2014, the CTC hosted more than 7,000 clinic visits to address Ebola, a DoD top priority.
The next visit stop was one of the U.S. Military HIV Research Program (MHRP) laboratories. COL Nelson Michael and Dr. Sheila Peel described how their expertise underpinned the Ebola vaccine trial and how the MHRP addresses another national and global security threat – HIV. MHRP led the first and only HIV vaccine study to show efficacy and continues to lead research and development on next generation vaccines. In addition to vaccine development, MHRP conducts clinical diagnostics and therapeutic monitoring. The MHRP developed and deployed the most advanced HIV diagnostic algorithm in the US which is now recommended by the US CDC. Internationally, MHRP prioritizes the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) by providing HIV prevention, care and treatment in communities where they conduct research around the world.
The final stop on the tour was led by COL Maurice Sipos, Director of the Center for Military Psychiatry and Neuroscience to address another type of invisible threat Soldiers face. Our Center for Military Psychiatry and Neuroscience conducts research on traumatic brain injury and mental health issues resulting from military service. Countermeasures for military-specific psychological health issues have included resilience training modules, identifying barriers to the treatment of post-traumatic stress symptoms, as well as how to better maintain mental health in deployed settings. Our subject matter experts study fatigue management and blast exposure and injuries, both of which are common in deployed settings.
To end their visit, LTG Horoho commended gathered WRAIR civilian and military staff for their efforts and participation in the research and medical advances which allow the Army to deploy around the world before introducing GEN Allyn. GEN Allyn balanced humor with his gratitude and that of the senior leadership of the Army to the incredible work conducted at WRAIR to safeguard Soldiers and the global community. After GEN Allyn’s comments, both GEN Allyn and LTG Horoho welcomed the opportunity to answer any questions to continue their dialogue.
This content-dense visit gave significant insight to WRAIR’s critical contributions to not only the Department of Defense but also the global community. As GEN Allyn stated in his address to WRAIR, “Army medical research plays a foundational role in the success of our all-volunteer force. The success of our Army relies on trust – trust between Soldiers and the military institution, and trust between the military and the American public.” He continued to state that the trust relies on a promise that the Army will never send Soldiers on a mission unprepared. “And that we will do everything in our power to avoid a fair fight with our adversaries – be it an enemy with tanks and mortars, a deadly disease like Ebola, or an invisible injury like post-traumatic stress.”
We look forward to continued communication with our guests and future visits from DoD senior leadership.