Viruses, Immune System are Focus of Two New Research Institutes

2 UCSF Faculty Named to Lead Biomedical Research Efforts

By Pete Farley

Gladstone Institutes, an independent organization in close partnership with UC San Francisco, is launching two new biomedical research institutes to broaden its impact on unsolved diseases.

portrait of Melanie Ott
Melanie Ott, MD, PhD, will lead the new Gladstone Institute of Virology. Photo by Gladstone Institutes

The Gladstone Institute of Virology, to be led by Melanie Ott, MD, PhD, will study the coronavirus behind the current COVID-19 pandemic, as well as search for novel therapies against future infectious diseases.

The first joint Gladstone-UCSF research entity, the Gladstone-UCSF Institute of Genomic Immunology, will be led by Alex Marson, MD, PhD, and will bring together genomics and immunology to develop next-generation cell therapies.

Both Ott and Marson are members of the UCSF faculty.

The two institutes are an evolution of the former Gladstone Institute of Virology and Immunology, which was led by Warner Greene, MD, PhD, since its establishment in 1991 and made significant contributions to the fight against HIV/AIDS.

“As the joint Gladstone-UCSF search committee met with eminent scientists from around the globe to find a new director for the Gladstone Institute of Virology and Immunology, Melanie and Alex stood out as exceptional candidates in terms of their research accomplishments and their scientific vision,” said Gladstone President Deepak Srivastava, MD, who chaired the search committee. “We realized they represent complementary, rather than alternative, directions for the future of Gladstone.”

Alex Marson, MD, PhD, will lead the new Gladstone-UCSF Institute of Genomic Immunology. Photo by Noah Berger

“They are both remarkable scientists,” he added. “We are honored to have them join our scientific leadership team and we look forward to the discoveries that will emerge from these new institutes.”

The Gladstone Institute of Virology will focus on how viruses interface with human host cells to cause disease and how to intervene in that process. Ott’s goal is to identify critical pathways that are common to human pathogenic viruses as a way to develop innovative treatments.

“Contrary to the current strategy of combining several drugs to treat one virus, we want to develop one drug against multiple viruses,” said Ott, senior investigator at Gladstone and professor in the UCSF Department of Medicine. “As antibiotic resistance becomes an increasingly urgent problem, we will also delve into how we can use viruses as therapeutics, which involves using viruses against themselves or to fight bacteria.”  

Ott and her colleagues in the institute are concentrating their immediate efforts on the study of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. This work will continue to contribute important insights into the current pandemic through the development of rapid diagnostic, prevention, and treatment strategies, as well as help us be better prepared for future coronavirus outbreaks and other emerging infections.

The Gladstone-UCSF Institute of Genomic Immunology will combine cutting-edge genomic technologies with gene editing and synthetic biology to better understand the genetic control of human immune cells and develop novel cell-based immunotherapies. Manipulation of the immune system holds great promise not only to treat cancer, but also for infectious diseases, autoimmune diseases, and maybe even neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.

“These rapidly advancing fields are starting to converge in ways that are too big for any single lab to take on,” said Marson, senior investigator at Gladstone and associate professor in the Departments of Medicine and of Microbiology and Immunology at the UCSF School of Medicine. “The impetus to start a new institute was the realization that we need to create an ecosystem to bring together people with different perspectives to think about transformative opportunities for how patients can be treated in the future.”

Marson’s institute will have lab space at Gladstone, adjacent to UCSF’s Mission Bay campus, as well as at the University’s Parnassus Heights campus, home of UCSF’s ImmunoX initiative, creating a unified community across the two campuses.

“The importance of pursuing advances in virology and immunology for human health has never been more clear, and we at UCSF applaud Gladstone’s visionary leadership in establishing these two new institutes,” said UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood, MBBS. “Under Melanie and Alex’s excellent leadership, these research institutes – including the first-ever Gladstone-UCSF institute – will complement and enhance UCSF’s strengths in immunology and cell therapy, and will build on Gladstone’s established expertise in the host-pathogen interface and gene editing technologies. Our long-standing partnership leverages the best of both institutions.”

About UCSF: The University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) is exclusively focused on the health sciences and is dedicated to promoting health worldwide through advanced biomedical research, graduate-level education in the life sciences and health professions, and excellence in patient care. UCSF Health, which serves as UCSF’s primary academic medical center, includes top-ranked specialty hospitals and other clinical programs, and has affiliations throughout the Bay Area.

About Gladstone Institutes: To ensure our work does the greatest good, Gladstone Institutes focuses on conditions with profound medical, economic, and social impact – unsolved diseases. Gladstone is an independent, nonprofit life science research organization that uses visionary science and technology to overcome disease. It has an academic affiliation with the University of California, San Francisco.