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Seattle Children’s Research Institute’s Dr. Lisa Frenkel will co-lead the new team alongside CIDR President John Aitchison. (Seattle Children’s Photo)

Infectious diseases can make anyone sick, but those most at risk are almost always children and families. Despite recent advancements in fighting bugs like malaria, pneumonia and HIV, infectious diseases still kill 15 thousand children every day, or almost 5.5 million children a year.

Two research organizations are teaming up to face that challenge head-on. The Seattle-based Center for Infectious Disease Research (CIDR), the oldest independent research organization of its kind in the country, has agreed to merge with the infectious disease division of Seattle Children’s Research Institute (SCRI). The resulting team will be the largest pediatric infectious disease research program in the country.

CIDR and SCRI will integrate the two teams in the coming months, with 166 CIDR scientists joining 43 existing team members at SCRI. CIDR will also bring its portfolio of research projects, which is supported by $25 million annually from the National Institutes of Health. The transition is set to finalize on October 18 and the new program will be part of SCRI.

John Aitchison, a longtime CIDR scientist who was appointed the organization’s president last year, will co-lead the new program alongside researcher Dr. Lisa Frenkel, the co-director of SCRI’s current program. Aitchison told GeekWire that the merger brings a number of advantages to both the teams.

CIDR Presidnet John Aitchison, also a longtime researcher, will co-lead the new program. He said it opens the door for more life-saving discoveries and advances in infectious disease research. (Seattle Children’s Photo)

“One of the major advantages is being able to achieve a critical mass,” he said. “By joining these two institutions or these organizations — it’s more than 1 plus 1, there’s a real multiplication there and real synergy.”

One of the reasons for that synergy is each organization’s expertise. SCRI President Jim Hendricks told GeekWire the two organizations complement each other when it comes to the bench-to-bedside flow that medical research requires.

“Our expertise is more slanted towards bedside, theirs towards bench, so together it’s more balanced,” Hendricks said.

“And that’s why there’s such a synergy,” Aitchison said. “Just having more basic researchers or just adding more clinical researchers — it wouldn’t have the synergy that this provides, it really wouldn’t.”

The organizations will also be able to combine their institutional knowledge on a huge number of diseases. While infectious diseases have certain similarities, each one presents a unique scientific and social challenge to keeping kids healthy.

CIDR’s recent work includes the discovery of a new antibody that helps prevent malaria, opening the door for development of new treatments and vaccines. SCRI’s work includes tackling HPV and understanding how it causes a number of cancers. Both organizations have ongoing research into HIV and other high-profile diseases.

“If you look at the CIDR portfolio and you add it to ours, we pretty much cover all of those diseases that have a significant impact on populations across the globe,” Hendricks said.

And the organization hopes to turn that work into real results, leveraging a more full bench-to-bedside pipeline that the new program will offer.

“I think we’ll be able to make some really fundamental scientific advances that will lead to these vaccines, drugs and diagnostics we’ve been talking about for years,” Aitchison said, “and we’ll be able to get those advances into the clinic and to the people who need them the most.

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