Chasing Pandemics

Dr. Alan S. Rudolph

Dr. Alan S. Rudolph has had an active career in translating interdisciplinary life sciences into useful applications for biotechnology development across government, industry and academia. He was first introduced to infectious disease outbreak research and development at Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in the mid 90’s where he led some of the first biodefense programs in diagnostics and sensors for early detection of threats from diseases for the Department of Defense.  He founded Cellphire, a blood preservation company which is in late stage clinical trials for bleeding injuries including those from hemorrhagic fevers like Ebola.  At the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, he led new programs in outbreak research and development including the antibody therapeutics that saved lives in the last Ebola outbreak in the US.  Before joining CSU he led the biological and chemical science and technology program for the Department of Homeland Security where he US animal biosecurity program to protect the US agricultural and livestock sector.  Since joining CSU, he has continued to lead strategic investments for the academy in infectious disease research and translation for regional and global impacts. 

It seems my entire career I have been chasing pandemics.  My first job after my doctoral work was at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington DC, during the global pandemic outbreak of HIV, developing artificial blood to eliminate the risk of a broad set of transfusion transmitted diseases.  Starting at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency after the former Soviet Union offensive bioweapons program was discovered, I spent a good part of my government career leading teams chasing pandemics and new countermeasures against global infectious disease outbreaks. We looked for solutions from both emerging new threats and new adversaries who were weaponizing disease.  I chased the development of medical countermeasures for pandemics in industry innovating new countermeasures for the global outbreaks of Mad Cow and Chronic Wasting Diseases and other global neurological diseases.  I came to CSU and have invested internal institutional funds strategically in chasing preparedness for infectious disease outbreaks across our campus.  And today, we are all chasing COVID together. 

In response to the growing threats from chronic and newly emerging infectious diseases government, agencies, corporate research and development, and foundations have continued sizable efforts to advance novel countermeasures to prevent and respond to the increasing number of threats from infectious disease outbreaks. The primary focus of these investments continues to develop a diverse portfolio of countermeasures from detection to protection in response to wide-spread outbreaks.  While these investments have helped, the last decade has seen no shortage of infectious disease devastation, with outbreaks of influenza (human, avian, swine), Ebola, Zika, SARS-1, African Swine Fever, and now SARS-2 that have had devastating losses of life and economic infrastructures. 

At Colorado State University, we have historically engaged in interdisciplinary programs to translate science in infectious disease research into useful applications in our community.  Discoveries are generated from hundreds of faculty across campus with passion for their science and making a difference. We have research and scholarly excellence programs that proactively link infectious disease research to community engagement and regional response. These activities enabled our agile response to chase the COVID pandemic with more than 135 new proposals across industry, government, and non-profit foundations addressing discoveries needed and potential solutions from vaccines to ventilators to the COVID pandemic. We empowered our expertise in the community with the earliest senior care screening project and a testing lab for PPE in the nation, directly benefiting for our medical front-line workers that protected and saved lives in our most precious Colorado communities.  This annual edition of the research magazine highlights many of these outstanding ideas and actions in a time of crisis. Yet, we couldn’t fit all the amazing stories of the people who helped make our response so impactful every day.  There are many outstanding contributions from publications, patents, and community engagements CSU scientists and scholars have undertaken during this crisis.  We are in the chase. 

One thematic focus of investments in chasing pandemics has been to realize a One Health approach that can more effectively respond to frequent outbreaks that consider the ecosystem interplay of animals, humans, climate, and the environment in disease.  Most pandemic threats to humans still originate from animal or wildlife sources and are influenced by factors of movement of people, materials and, climate.  Our One Health Institute is pursuing to strengthen needed connections of understanding, application, and practice.  Faster surveillance tools and more agile manufacturing is needed that provide an earlier warning to detect and respond to an emerging disease in time to prevent significant losses.  New facilities like the ones we are building at the CSU Foothills campus will focus research with vectors and hosts of disease such as mosquitos, ticks, bats, rodents, birds. With these new facilities we will continue our contributions to understanding major outstanding questions about the interplay between pathogens like SARS and hosts.  Our expanding outbreak countermeasure biological manufacturing and technology accelerator facilities will also enhance our potential for chasing pandemics.  New corporate strategic animal and human health partners in these facilities and the prominent work on COVID at Foothills in One Health areas, including infectious disease, atmospheric and agricultural sciences positions the Foothills campus well for future growth opportunities that could be chasing pandemics well into our future. 

A few more observations about chasing pandemics 

Our current research and development approaches to medical countermeasures that we need to chase pandemics are unsustainable. Our world can no longer support a ‘one bug, one drug’ approach in the approach to building a resilient needed infrastructure.  We should amplify efforts to boost immunity to multiple pathogens or bugs in developing host-based methods and medical countermeasures that focus on a single drug or vaccine target. Examining the more facile off-label use of alternative drugs or vaccines that might show efficacy and developmental paths could offer a more agile response to finding solutions to a rapidly spreading disease. 

Our legislative approach to chasing pandemics is also unsustainable. We have seen billions of dollars allocated in response to Ebola, Swine Flu, Avian Flu, Zika, and now the massive trillions in response to COVID.  While these responses were unavoidable, a ‘one bug, one bill’ approach is also not sustainable.  The new chase will require strategies that invest in legislation to build resilience in our response to future threats.  Legislation is needed to address and limit the jump of disease from wildlife, domestic animals to humans. It considers the environmental and climate, and rural, agricultural, and urban influences on disease outbreaks.  There are widespread public health consequences of this global pandemic and what it will mean for public health needs in chasing the next one.   

The COVID pandemic has brought the pandemic chase to every person on the planet.  Pursuing the next one will require new approaches across many sectors of our society to build new health agility and resilience. The CSU research enterprise will be prepared and is making tremendous impacts every day to help chase and defeat this one first.