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Influenzers in Action: COVID-19 Response III

Part III: Celebrating influenza thought leaders & advocates

Visionary Leadership

Responding to COVID-19, many experts and institutions across the S&T spectrum are joining the historic campaign to fight this pandemic. Here we celebrate the contributions being made by visionary thought leaders in vaccine science, public health policy, and pandemic preparedness applying their vast expertise to the current global health crisis.

Galit Alter

Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School;
Group Leader at the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard

Along with her colleagues from the interdisciplinary Ragon Institute and the Boston-Cambridge collaborative consortium convened in response to COVID-19, Alter participates in a multipronged effort to understand, treat, and prevent coronavirus infections.  Known for designing and applying systems biology tools to define the correlates of immunity against infectious diseases including influenza, Alter is leading a team to develop a robust, high-throughput, rapid diagnostic for COVID-19 that can gauge immunity: key information to guide back-to-work decisions and protect vulnerable populations.  She also contributed to the development of an assay to detect seroconversion in COVID-19 patients.

More from Dr. Alter:

Luciana Borio

Vice President, In-Q-Tel; former NSC Director for Medical and Biodefense Preparedness, former FDA Acting Chief Scientist

In 2018, while serving as the last Director for Medical and Biodefense Preparedness at the National Security Council , Borio warned that influenza “represents both a health security and a national security threat” to which “we cannot respond with the speed that we need to.” To this end, Borio coordinated the Executive Order on Modernizing Influenza Vaccines which initiated the National Influenza Vaccine Modernization Strategy (NIVMS) 2020-2030. Among the first to presage the yet-unnamed coronavirus’ devastating potential, Borio has advised the U.S. response to COVID-19 through a series of high-profile editorials and a report proposing a swift, safe path to bring effective treatments to market at scale.

Related:

Jeremy Farrar

Director, Wellcome Trust

Few people were more prepared for COVID-19 than Farrar, an internationally known expert on emerging diseases, pandemic prevention and response. In late 2019, he and coauthors presciently argued for “an integrated cycle of preparation, response and recovery” to infectious disease outbreaks—including influenza—that combines “knowledge and skills from all over the world—especially at-risk and affected communities” and partners epidemiology with “social sciences, research and development, diplomacy, logistics and crisis management.” In widely-sought advice on COVID-19, Farrar has stressed that science provides “the only true exit strategy” from this global crisis, and that whatever treatments and vaccines emerge must be shared equitably, worldwide.

Anthony Fauci

Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)

A prominent original member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, Fauci is widely regarded as the face of the federal scientific response to COVID-19. Fellow Influenzer Michael Specter’s portrait of Fauci emphasizes his decades-long commitment to fighting infectious diseases, including his enduring support for a UIV.  NIAID’s strategic plan for UIV development—conceived and launched under Fauci’s leadership—yielded exciting results in March, when an experimental vaccine designed to protect against many flu virus strains via cellular immunity demonstrated efficacy.

More from Dr. Fauci:

 

Bruce Gellin

President of Global Immunization at the Sabin Vaccine Institute
The now-famous flattened curve conceived by Gellin and his HHS colleagues more than a decade ago prompted recent shutdowns that saved lives. However, Gellin emphasizes, only widespread immunity can provide sustained protection against infection by any virus with pandemic potential.  To get there safely, we need vaccines: most immediately against COVID-19—but no less urgently a UIV, he insists, to stop an emerging influenza strain before it spreads.

Related:

Matt Hepburn

CBRN Defense Enabling Biotechnologies and Operation Warp Speed (vaccine) leads, Department of Defense

Hepburn brings decades of service, research, and strategic thinking focused on infectious disease response and pandemic preparedness to his current role as DoD’s vaccine subject matter expert supporting Operation Warp Speed.  In 2017, under Hepburn’s leadership, DARPA launched its innovative Pandemic Prevention Platform, which aims to harness multiple novel technologies to rapidly control infectious disease outbreaks.  “I love …[recruiting] people that have expertise in computer science, in mathematics, in … fields [that] aren’t necessarily obviously related [to infectious disease]: that’s how we’re gonna solve the infectious diseases problems of the 21st century,” he told an interviewer in 2018.

See also:

Eric Lander

Professor of Systems Biology, Harvard Medical School;
Founding Director, Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard

As President and Founding Director of the Broad Institute, a bold experiment in collaborative basic medical science and translational medicine, Lander leads a multi-pronged effort to understand and overcome COVID-19—including by speedily processing test samples from patients across New England. In 2010, following the H1N1 pandemic, during which he served as co-chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), Lander co-authored a report to inform pandemic preparedness. Its recommendations included: new technological platforms for speedier vaccine production; improved collaboration with the private sector; regulatory science innovation to streamline the vaccine approval process; and, better project management.

Ruth Karron

Professor, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health;
Director, Center for Immunization Research;
Founding Director, Johns Hopkins Vaccine Initiative

A prominent advocate for investment in expanding global access to vaccines, and in strengthening pandemic preparedness worldwide, Karron leads a coordinated, multidisciplinary approach to vaccine research and policy.  As during the 2009 influenza pandemic, she has observed, the development of a vaccine for COVID-19 will raise issues of global equity and justice unless and until vaccine supplies are sufficient to meet the needs of the entire world—a goal that can be advanced through technologies now being exploited to develop vaccines that include candidates for both COVID-19 vaccines and a UIV.

More from Dr. Karron:

Michael Osterholm

Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy,
University of Minnesota

For most of this century, Osterholm’s voice has been prominent among those warning the world of an imminent pandemic. In particular, he has urged that we prepare to meet the next influenza pandemic with a universal vaccine, our “only real solution.” As humanity confronts COVID-19 without benefit of vaccine, treatment, or significant preparedness planning, Osterholm and the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), which he directs, consistently provide evidence-based analyses and policy recommendations to address the pandemic.

CIDRAP has a long track record of providing such analysis and recommendations to prepare for the next outbreak of emerging infectious disease, from pandemic influenza to Ebola, SARS, MERS, Nipah, Lassa fever, Zika, and COVID-19. CIDRAP’s comprehensive website has become a global go-to source of reliable, evidence-based information in a variety of formats, including daily news reporting, podcasts, policy briefings, newsletters, and research analyses. Along with CIDRAP’s medical director Kristine Moore, MD, MPH, and in collaboration with a wide range of global public health experts, Osterholm leads the development of a global influenza vaccines R&D roadmap, influenza research response planning, and a universal influenza vaccines technology landscape.

See also:

Lynda Stuart

Deputy Director, Vaccines and Human Immunobiology,
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

As leader of the Gates Foundation’s efforts to identify and support novel approaches to vaccine discovery and development, Stuart has made a strong case for the potential of synthetic biology vaccines to expand access to immunization in low-income settings, to increase vaccine potency, and as a platform for building rapid-response pandemic vaccines—today, to stem the tide of COVID-19, and in the future, to protect against multiple diseases, including influenza.

See also:

 

Keith Yamamoto

Professor, Cellular Molecular Pharmacology
Vice Chancellor for Science Policy and Strategy
Director, UCSF Precision Medicine

Long a champion of the transdisciplinary, multi-sectoral synergy that the Influenzer Initiative seeks to harness in pursuit of a UIV, Yamamoto envisions a future in which scientists and engineers across the disciplinary spectrum collaborate to advance medical care and solve vexing problems. Such teamwork requires removing barriers to data sharing through policy changes advocated recently by Yamamoto and colleagues—and embodied in the unprecedented scientific response to COVID-19.