CDC contract to improve labs' access to flu viruses

Oct 9, 2008 (CIDRAP News) – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has contracted with a private biological resource business to set up a system to improve researchers' access to influenza viruses, test kits, and reagents.

The CDC yesterday announced the awarding of a $16.9 million contract to American Type Culture Collection (ATCC) of Manassas, Va., to set up the CDC Influenza Reagent Resource Center (CDC-IRR), described as a secure, Web-based system to improve access to viruses and related items.

ATCC is a private, nonprofit biological resource center that acquires, develops, produces, and distributes reference microorganisms, cell lines, and other materials for research. The contract is for 1 year, with an option to renew each year for up to 10 years, the CDC said.

"This new resource will be a significant improvement for accessing the CDC library of influenza viruses," said Dr. Nancy Cox, director of the CDC's Influenza Division, in a news release. "We expect that the CDC-IRR will speed the development of better diagnostic tests, antiviral drugs, and vaccines."

By means of "a secure internet web portal for approved users," the system will give researchers, vaccine and diagnostic-test developers, and public health officials better access to a repository of flu viruses, including those that could pose a pandemic risk, as well as kits and reagents (substances used in tests), the CDC said.

Under the contract, ATCC will essentially take over from the CDC the work of storing flu viruses, test kits, and reagents and sending them to other labs and researchers, according to Dr. Daniel Jernigan, deputy director of the CDC's Influenza Division. Researchers and developers of vaccines and tests need the items because flu viruses constantly change.

"Historically CDC has provided some of these products for developers to use, but what's happened in the past is that people haven't had as easy access to those things as they've needed," Jernigan told CIDRAP News. "Also, as H5N1 has emerged and with the potential for a pandemic, we've recognized that there needed to be availability of a stockpile of viruses and library of reagents."

Once the system is set up, Jernigan said, researchers will be able to enroll in it and order materials online. A person seeking to develop a new flu diagnostic test, for example, will be able to order particular viral strains and a test kit, consisting of a standard set of viruses used to validate the test.

In the event of a flu pandemic, the CDC-IRR will serve as a source of reagents to qualified labs, the CDC statement said. Such labs are expected to play a critical role in detecting and confirming initial cases, characterizing viruses, monitoring the course of the pandemic, and choosing vaccine strains, the agency said.

Jernigan said the new system is expected to help both public health labs, which are "the first line of detection for pandemic and seasonal influenza viruses," and developers making new vaccines, antiviral drugs, and diagnostic tests.

"We're trying to speed up development by providing much greater access to new viruses and other products that we have here but are not easily accessible," he said.

Jernigan said the CDC and other federal agencies have a long-standing relationship with ATCC, which has operated for more than 80 years. "We work with them on other repositories we have here. This is one of the largest projects we've initiated with them," he said.

See also:

Oct 8 CDC news release
http://www.cdc.gov/media/pressrel/2008/r081008.htm

ATCC site
http://www.atcc.org/

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