The Wistar Institute is the nation’s first independent biomedical research institute. Today, Wistar, a nonprofit, is an international leader in biomedical science with special expertise in cancer and infectious disease research and vaccine development.
Since its founding in 1892, Wistar’s research has produced groundbreaking scientific advancements that have benefited millions of people. Vaccines against rubella, rabies and rotavirus that are currently being used across the globe, some of the first diagnostic and therapeutic monoclonal antibodies, the Wistar rat, and fundamental discoveries of mechanisms of cancer and aging were made at Wistar. The Institute continues to advance basic biomedical research and translate fundamental discoveries into future therapies.
Wistar’s research enterprise is organized into the Cancer Center and the Vaccine & Immunotherapy Center, both of which operate in an interdisciplinary collaborative environment with support from numerous core facilities that provide state-of-the-art equipment and technical expertise.
Wistar has been a National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Cancer Center since 1972, the first in the country dedicated to basic research. The Center’s pioneering work merges basic and translational research in a single scientific continuum with focus on three research programs: Gene Expression and Regulation; Immunology, Microenvironment and Metastasis; and Molecular and Cellular Oncogenesis. The Wistar Cancer Center is devoted to uncovering the genetic changes associated with and causing different types of cancer, understanding the role of the tumor microenvironment and metastasis and designing new strategies to activate the immune response against cancer.
The Wistar Vaccine & Immunotherapy Center has a prestigious tradition of leadership in vaccine development and is now conducting research on debilitating and life-threatening emerging infectious diseases including Ebola, Zika, Chikungunya, MERS, influenza, and malaria. Wistar is a leader in the development of DNA vaccine technology, the most recent generation of optimized vaccines with better immune responses and reduced toxicity. In 2017, the first phase 1 human clinical trial for a Zika DNA vaccine developed at Wistar, together with partners at Inovio Therapeutics, GeneOne Life Sciences and the University of Pennsylvania, demonstrated both safety and efficacy. These promising results have opened the door for larger trials to move the vaccine candidate forward in development. The DNA vaccine technology is also applied to cancer immunotherapy for cancers associated with chronic viral infections and to break immune tolerance against tumor antigens.
Wistar is home to one of the most productive HIV research programs in the nation, working to identify new mechanisms of immunodeficiency, understand and enhance the natural ability of our immune system to respond to HIV infection and develop novel approaches to eradicate the virus and cure AIDS.
Wistar’s discovery engine is fueled by a culture of collaboration. The Institute takes a “team science” approach to its research both internally and with external partners,having formal agreements with many institutes in the Philadelphia region.
Image of Prostate Cancer Cells
Educating and training the next generation of scientists are central to Wistar’s mission, which focuses on pre-doctoral and postdoctoral trainees as well as undergraduate and high school students, encouraging them to embrace careers in science. Since 2000, the Biomedical Technician Training (BTT) Program, conducted in collaboration with the Community College of Philadelphia, has been preparing students for new career opportunities as research assistants and technicians. Developed as an extension of the BTT Program, the Biomedical Research Technician (BRT) Apprenticeship is the first nontraditional apprenticeship program in biomedical research approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry and the first program of its kind in the nation.
Wistar is a catalyst for business development in the life sciences community of the Philadelphia region, fostering collaborations among the research institutes and start-up community and creating opportunities for sharing knowledge and experiences in drug discovery between academia and industry.
Wistar’s business development team is advancing Wistar science and technology development through early engagement and creative partnerships.
Wistar science lays the foundation for innovative medicines for cancer and infectious diseases.