Pfizer designates UofL as first Center of Excellence for epidemiological research of vaccine-preventable diseases

By Betty Coffman, UofL News

Julio Ramirez, M.D., right, in the UofL infectious diseases laboratory

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A new collaboration with Pfizer Inc. will enable the University of Louisville’s Division of Infectious Diseases to play a significant role in epidemiological research related to vaccine-preventable diseases affecting adults, including the elderly.

UofL has been designated the first Center of Excellence by Pfizer Vaccines.

“UofL’s Division of Infectious Diseases has a rich history of collaboration with Pfizer through the successful implementation of numerous clinical epidemiological research studies. We are excited to formalize a long-term collaboration that builds on these past successes,” said Julio Ramirez, M.D., chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Louisville.

The Center of Excellence, directed by Ramirez, is a collaboration between the university and the pharmaceutical corporation aimed at determining the human health burden of important infectious diseases and potential vaccine effectiveness. The data will provide robust evidence to national health officials and independent policy makers who develop recommendations for the use of vaccines in immunization programs worldwide. Studies will take place in hospitals, long-term care facilities and the community.

UofL is the first Center of Excellence selected by Pfizer Vaccines Medical Development and Scientific/Clinical Affairs to be part of an international network of epidemiological research organizations. This designation is for a period of three years with an option for renewal. Pfizer selected UofL because of the university’s exceptional capabilities for conducting population-based surveillance and clinical research that engages multiple health care facilities, health care personnel, industry and communities-at-large.

“Pfizer has had an outstanding working relationship with the University of Louisville for more than 10 years,” said Luis Jodar, Ph.D., chief medical and scientific affairs officer, Pfizer Vaccines. “The quality of disease burden evidence varies widely worldwide. Deriving accurate and credible population-based incidence estimates require comprehensive surveillance to identify cases of diseases within a well-defined and well-characterized geographic area. Thanks to UofL’s excellent network of research partners, the population available for research studies in Louisville can provide the data to derive estimates of disease burden that can be generalized nationally.”

The demographics of Jefferson County, Ky., are similar to the United States in general, including racial and ethnic make-up, socioeconomic status, and the proportion of rural and urban populations.

The research studies conducted as part of the center may lead to economic growth and development for the city of Louisville and the Kentuckiana region, including jobs and educational opportunities in the health care industry.

“This collaboration will provide increased visibility for the university on a global scale, making UofL attractive for high-caliber researchers and research grants,” said Neeli Bendapudi, Ph.D., president of UofL. ”It also presents an exceptional opportunity for our researchers to improve the human condition by helping to reduce the burden of infectious diseases worldwide by generating data that will inform governments and health care policymakers.”

Pfizer studies anticipated for UofL include population-based surveillance of infectious diseases including Streptococcus pneumoniae, a bacteria which causes pneumonia and other infections, Clostridioides difficile, a bacteria that causes severe diarrhea and colitis, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a common virus associated with mild cold-like symptoms but can cause severe infection in some people, including older adults. Visit CERIDLouisville.org/research for additional information on these diseases and two Center of Excellence studies already underway at UofL:

  • The City of Louisville Diarrhea (CLOUD) study launched in September 2019. Pfizer will be providing up to $6.5 million in funding for a one-year study of the incidence of diarrhea among Louisville-area residents.
  • The Louisville Pneumonia study is up to $4.5 million in funding provided by Pfizer for a one-year study of the incidence of pneumonia among adults in Louisville that launched in November 2019.