K-State’s strategic plan guides progress

FARAD’s co-founder will lead new computational medicine institute
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A plan launched this year by the Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine ambitiously aims to boost the economy, workforce, animal health, and food quality in the state.

Among the tactics outlined in its “People, Programs and Places” program are attracting and retaining top faculty who will “invigorate research efforts, resulting in more research-based developments in animal and human health.”

Dr. Riviere
Dr. Jim E. Riviere

The veterinary college landed its first big hire with noted pharmacologist Dr. Jim E. Riviere. The National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine member will leave North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine after more than 30 years. There he served as the Burroughs Wellcome Fund Distinguished Professor of Pharmacology and director of the Center for Chemical Toxicology Research and Pharmacokinetics. He’s also co-founder and director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Animal Residue Avoidance Databank, or FARAD. It’s a nationally funded, computer-based support system that provides information to producers and veterinarians about drug residues, including withdrawal times.

Starting Aug. 1, Dr. Riviere will hold an endowed professorship in the Department of Anatomy and Physiology at KSU’s veterinary college. He will also direct the newly created Institute of Computational Comparative Medicine, which applies mathematical models to improve animal health and food safety.

The Kansas Bioscience Authority will pay $4.9 million over five years to fund Dr. Riviere’s research and fund the hiring of four faculty at the assistant professor level to support the institute.

It will take a while to build the institute, Dr. Riviere said, but he wants to develop computational medicine capabilities focused on areas of veterinary medicine ranging from toxicology to pharmacology. Such capabilities do not currently exist anywhere else, he said, because there hasn’t been any substantial support to apply this area of science to animal health issues until now.

Dr. Riviere’s research has previously focused on the development of animal models; application of biomathematics to problems in toxicology, including risk assessments of chemical mixtures, as well as pharmacokinetics, nanomaterials, and absorption of drugs and chemicals across skin; and the food safety and pharmacokinetics of tissue residues in food-producing animals.

“Lots of the research I’ve done—outside of FARAD—has focused on basic National Institutes of Health–related work, which is crucial and important; however, it’s missing applications in veterinary medicine, and that requires a focus. K-State is allowing me to do that focus.”

Dr. Riviere is excited for the potential the institute holds; for example, discoveries there could decrease the number of animals required for drug approvals and improve the ability to get drugs on the market much faster.

“Some areas at the institute are going to be related to FARAD work—for instance, chemical food safety issues related to drug approvals—and then there are even some aspects of computational epidemiology that will tie in with the NBAF (National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility). To me, it’s transformational,” he said.

Manhattan, Kan., is home to the USDA Agricultural Research Service’s Arthropod-Borne Animal Disease Research Unit and was selected in 2009 to be the new location for the NBAF.

The NBAF is slated to be built on a site at K-State adjacent to the existing Biosecurity Research Institute, but plans were put in limbo when the Obama administration did not include a request for new money for construction of the NBAF facility for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

Regardless, Drs. Riviere and Ralph C. Richardson, dean of the KSU veterinary college, are optimistic for what the future holds at K-State and the surrounding area.

“We’ve been going through a master planning process to determine where we need to be, as federal research laboratories are moving to Manhattan,” Dean Richardson said in a press release. “It also connects with the Kansas City Animal Health Corridor, where the largest concentration of animal health and nutrition companies anywhere in the world reside. We’re trying to find a way to be a player in those fields.”

Dr. Riviere’s wife, Dr. Nancy Monteiro-Riviere, also a professor at NCSU’s veterinary college, will become a university distinguished professor and regents distinguished scholar at KSU, where she also will direct the Nanotechnology Innovation Center. This will be seeded with substantial research support and three new faculty hires to expand her work in nanotechnology.

Aside from the greater emphasis on animal health, Dr. Riviere said part of the reason he is moving to K-State is that it will provide a more stable environment for FARAD. In 2013, KSU will join the University of California-Davis, the University of Florida, and NCSU in running FARAD.

“That will broaden its base and, I think, will add a strong beef cattle component to it, and hopefully, we can get our appropriation to match our authorization. We’re never there,” he said.

FARAD looked to be in line for funding as Congress neared finalization of the fiscal year 2013 Agriculture Appropriations Bill.

The Senate passed its bill, which includes level funding of FARAD at $1 million. The House Subcommittee on Agriculture Appropriations had passed its version of the bill, which would fund FARAD at $973,000. The bill awaited passage by the full House Committee on Appropriations as of the beginning of July.

If Congress does not finalize an agriculture appropriations bill before the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30, there will likely be a series of short-term continuing resolutions that would fund FARAD at current levels until a final spending package can be passed.