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Kayvon Modjarrad, M.D., Ph.D., Director, Emerging Infectious Diseases Branch at WRAIR 

Dr. Kayvon Modjarrad is the Director of the Emerging Infectious Diseases Branch at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR), leads the U.S. Army's development of a vaccine against COVID-19 and co-leads all of WRAIR’s COVID-19 response efforts. 

Dr. Modjarrad's team has developed a vaccine that is unique among other COVID-19 vaccines currently in development, as it is based on a ferritin nanoparticle platform that has been engineered to present the coronavirus Spike protein many times over to the immune system. The Spike protein is the part of the virus that attaches to the lungs.

He and his team are using the ferritin vaccine platform as it can pave the way for a universal vaccine to protect against the current virus and all other currently known coronaviruses and as well as new coronavirus species that are anticipated to arise in the future.

In early June, Dr. Modjarrad’s team announced the selection of a leading vaccine candidate to advance to manufacture and clinical trials. Narrowed down from more than two dozen prototypes and administered to nearly one thousand mice, the top vaccines chosen to progress to the next stage of development are those that elicited the strongest immune response in preclinical studies. The leading candidate, called the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus-2 Spike Ferritin Nanoparticle (SpFN), will enter first-in-human testing in September of this year.   

Dr. Modjarrad is part of Operation Warp Speed (OWS), a whole-of-federal government effort to accelerate the development of COVID-19 vaccines. He was also one of fifteen people around the world selected to serve on the World Health Organization's Strategic Advisory Group of Experts for the COVID19 vaccines. This group advises on which vaccines should be recommended for use throughout the developing world, the likely next epicenter of the pandemic. 

Dr. Modjarrad has a great deal of experience with emerging infectious diseases, particularly coronaviruses, as he was the first to lead the NIH coronavirus vaccine program in 2012 and recently led the first-ever vaccine clinical trial in humans for another coronavirus—MERS-CoV, which was completed at WRAIR in 2018. He also played co-led the Army's efforts to develop a vaccine for the Zika virus, developing and bringing a vaccine to clinical trials in just nine months.

“The world has seen five new human coronaviruses identified in the past two decades, when we only knew about two for the fifty years before,” said Dr. Modjarrad. “The emergence of coronaviruses in human populations is accelerating and we need to be prepared for the eventuality that the current coronavirus mutates or other coronaviruses arise. That’s why we need a vaccine, like the one we’re developing, that can be used to protect broadly against all coronaviruses.”