Should we consider joint programs of vaccine cooperation with some of the world’s Central Asian and Middle Eastern nations? For decades Iran has actively pursued the development of vaccines for leishmaniasis, while in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Arabian Gulf there is interest in pursuing early stage development for vaccines to prevent a number of neglected tropical diseases, including leishmaniasis, schistosomiasis and brucellosis. While such vaccines are urgently needed they are of little or no commercial value because they would prevent diseases that almost exclusively affect people living in extreme poverty.

Hence, it is unlikely that any of the multinational pharmaceutical companies will assume responsibility for developing neglected tropical disease vaccines anytime soon. Such circumstances create opportunities to put Texas at the forefront of vaccine diplomacy. This summer I brought a group of scientists from Washington, DC to Houston in order to advance a new generation of neglected tropical disease vaccines. The Sabin Vaccine Institute and Texas Children’s Center for Vaccine Development based at the Texas Children’s Hospital of Baylor College of Medicine is a unique non-profit product development partnership developing vaccines to combat hookworm infection, schistosomiasis, Chagas disease and leishmaniasis. We are simultaneously creating a National School of Tropical Medicine to train a new generation of vaccine scientists and tropical disease experts.

One of the major benefits of bringing our product development partnership to Texas is the excitement of partnering with Texas A&M University, which recently expanded its facilities to establish an impressive manufacturing capability for biodefense vaccines and vaccines for public health emergency preparedness; as well as with Rice University because of its prowess in bioengineering. There are also important ongoing activities for vaccine testing based elsewhere at Baylor College of Medicine and the Texas Medical Center and The University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. Together, these Texas institutions represent a powerful non-profit vaccine biotechnology juggernaut which is unrivaled anywhere else in the U.S.

According to estimates by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the gross domestic product of Texas exceeds $1 trillion dollars, ranking Texas in 2009 as the 14th largest economy in the world behind Russia and ahead of Australia. Our state’s vaccine development capabilities have the potential to also place us at the forefront of vaccine diplomacy efforts in the Middle East and Central Asia, in addition to leading cooperative efforts with Brazil, Cuba, Mexico and Argentina, the four nations in the Latin American and Caribbean region that also produce vaccines.

Together with some of the major universities in Texas, The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas (TAMEST) could play a role in promoting vaccine development efforts across our state. Simultaneously, TAMEST could work to advance vaccine diplomacy throughout the Western hemisphere and indeed globally.