Alliance takes on mosquito ills
TAMPA - The pesky mosquitoes Florida tourism promoters disdain are luring global drug companies to an alliance of the state's research universities. Researchers from the University of South Florida and University of Florida met in Tampa on Friday to discuss ongoing partnerships with private companies developing drugs for mosquito-borne diseases. An example: USF is investigating the molecular makeup of a private company's dengue fever drug compound, said Wil Milhouse, associate dean for research at USF's College of Public Health. Simultaneously, scientists from UF's Emerging Pathogens Institute are identifying communities and situations where the potential drug can eventually be tested. Dengue fever is a mosquito-borne infection active in pockets around the world, and it re-emerged as a potential health threat in Florida with an outbreak in 2010 in Key West.The disease's re-emergence and Florida's tropical environment make the state ideal for private companies to develop drugs needed worldwide, Milhouse said. "These diseases are important to Florida," he said of the research supported by a $500,000 state grant. "And the drug companies want a U.S. presence and Florida identity." There are as many as 100,000 million cases of dengue fever reported worldwide each year, though just 36 happened in the United States in 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. United Therapeutics provided its potential drug details to USF because it sees mosquito-borne diseases as a threat to the state and global economy, said Tim Stephens, a consultant with United's Unither Virology division. The company has been involved in the state's Florida Health Sciences Gateway Initiative that ties together university researchers with biomedical companies fighting dengue fever and other tropical disease. This kind of university research is about more than state and global public health, said Glenn Morris, director of the Emerging Pathogens Institute in Gainesville. It attracts high-tech, top-paying jobs to the state, he said.
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