Recognizing Unmet Needs: Emory Virologist Martin Moore Makes the Most of His Lab's RSV Research
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is the leading cause of bronchiolitis, viral pneumonia, and viral death in infants both in the U.S. and worldwide. Almost all children will have been infected with RSV by their second birthday. And yet, this killer of 200,000 infants annually was not the focus of as much laboratory research as might be expected.
"Before deciding on what to work on as a post-doc, I made a matrix of viral diseases on a sheet of paper, clinical impact versus number of RO1s (NIH independent investigator grants)," says Martin Moore, PhD, an assistant professor in Emory's infectious diseases unit, and a faculty member of the Children's Center for Immunology and Vaccines (CCIV). "RSV was the virus that had the highest ratio of these two things. It was important, and not enough people were studying it."
And so Moore, an outside-the-box thinker who had been a cashier at Kmart, jumped trains, and worked on an assembly line bagging salads before gaining his doctorate in genetics, became a specialist on RSV, working to determine the molecular mechanisms of its pulmonary pathogenesis and advancing RSV vaccines and antivirals. This allowed him to become independent and have his own lab, which Moore likens to "having my own tree house. It’s very rewarding, and you have a lot of freedom to explore your own ideas, take risks, and have an impact."
His lab developed two model systems. The first is a mouse model of RSV pathogenesis that replicates some features of RSV bronchiolitis, including the proliferation of mucus in the airways. "Babies with RSV have a lot of mucus in their lungs, which results in the characteristic wheezing and can block their airways," he says. The second model is an efficient RSV reverse genetics system, to study RSV molecular biology and develop novel live attenuated RSV vaccine candidates.
"Our ultimate goal is to genetically manipulate RSV to achieve attenuation with genetic stability and enhanced immunogenicity," Moore says. Moore has gone beyond basic research, however, to a creative type of lab entrepreneurism, inventing and distributing the tools needed to study RSV. "We have a culture of invention in the lab," he says. "Everyone in the lab is involved in technology development. We talk about tech transfer every week, it's central to the lab, and I actually think it creates optimism and excitement for trainees in a time of prevailing pessimism due to funding."
These materials—largely research reagents and RSV strains—are licensed to companies for fees, which are generally small.
"I didn't actually expect this to become an alternative funding source," Moore says. "But it builds up. We had 18 licensures for revenue last year. I think it's important that what you distribute is 100% correct, that the stuff works. Our lab is very organized. Now companies have started contacting me, can we test our therapeutics in your mucogenic RSV mouse model, or will you generate this particular RSV strain for us? So, in addition to licensing, the research tool distribution has led to research contracts."
Licensing Associate Clifford Michaels of Emory's Office of Technology Transfer says Moore has created what he believes may be a model research lab of the future. "Marty looks at his lab differently, in terms of, here we have an unmet need for a vaccine, but the problem is that there aren't good tools for people to use to make vaccines," Michaels says. "So he says, 'Let me look at industry, let me make these tools to drive the whole field ahead.'"
The extra funding allows Moore to support post-docs in his lab, continuing the cycle of discovery and innovation. "We have our own projects, basic science and vaccine development," he says. "But invention resonates with people. We invented something and got it to as many companies as possible to facilitate vaccines and antivirals, which is a lot better than having research materials just sitting in lab freezers."
Generating unique reagents is advantageous for NIH grants, too. "Putting technology development at the front end of the goal of the lab, rather than seeing technology as a by-product of basic research, is enabling us to build a RSV and vaccine research program on multiple funding sources," he says.
And he's pleased that the path of research he decided on many years ago through his virus matrix has proven productive and rewarding. "RSV is a good choice for translational research," Moore says. "The acid test for me is whether I could explain to a random person on an airplane that, as a scientist, I am doing everything I can to fight this virus."
- Marty's RSV tools portfolio compromises 12 different engineered plasmids and virus strains
- In just over two years, these tools have resulted in 35 executed licenses *
- The tools have been shared with 12 academic research groups and 11 companies
* Some companies have multiple licenses covering separate items in the portfolio
To see a list of Marty Moore's technologies please view this web page.