Infection is the single leading cause of death of children worldwide. Infections account for 30% of all childhood deaths, a proportion that is 3 times the rate of death due to childhood cancer. The Children's Infection Defense Center (CIDC) seeks to eliminate the catastrophic infectious diseases of childhood through the use of vaccines and therapeutic agents whose development is based on an understanding of human immunity and microbial pathogenesis. Although development of therapeutic agents for the pediatric population is often commercially unattractive, the development of orphan drugs for many infectious diseases is well matched to the mission of St. Jude. The CIDC will provide a unique resource to pediatric medicine, addressing not only the discovery of innovative pediatric interventions but also their translation to clinical use. The center seeks to discover, manufacture, and test interventions in 3 broad areas: small-molecule anti-infective agents, vaccines and immunotherapeutic agents, and diagnostic technologies. The center collaborates closely with the St. Jude cGMP facility for the on-site manufacture of clinical-grade therapeutics and the Kmart St. Jude Life Center for the outpatient testing of novel vaccines.
The CIDC provides a format for interdisciplinary research in infectious diseases, bringing together more than 40 principal investigators at St. Jude, the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), Le Bonheur Children's Hospital, and the University of Memphis (UM). Special interests of the center are infections in the immunocompromised host and interventions for respiratory infections and AIDS. These deadly diseases present challenges on several fronts. First, few vaccines are available for children; second, microbial evolution has resulted in the emergence of pathogens no longer effectively treated with current antibiotics; and third, diagnostic technologies for some of these diseases are primitive. These infections are contagious, are acquired in the patient's home community, and have great adverse effects on children. Host defense in this age group is poorly understood. The CIDC is unique in its ability to foster development of a therapeutic agent from bench discovery to studies in animal models, cGMP manufacturing, and clinical trials. The success of the center's work can ultimately be measured by the clinical trials engendered by its programs.