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MHRP Scientist Discusses WHO Ebola Collaboration

January 5, 2016
Experience provides vaccine policy perspective

As an Ebola outbreak surged across West Africa in 2014, MHRP research physician, Dr. Kayvon Modjarrad, sought a way to aid response efforts. His opportunity to fight the epidemic came via Geneva, Switzerland, where he was requested by name to help the World Health Organization oversee Phase I trials for an Ebola vaccine candidate.

While in Geneva, Dr. Modjarrad was charged with guiding Ebola vaccine policy by monitoring the science, building consensus among diverse stakeholders and outlining a broad scientific agenda to define critical clinical endpoints. The experience gave him a macroscopic view of vaccine development that put his hands-on research experiences into a broader context.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to work in vaccine development at multiple phases, starting at the molecular level at the National Institutes of Health, and then the clinical stage here at MHRP” said Dr. Modjarrad. “At the WHO, we were looking at vaccine development and implementation from a global policy perspective and forging a broad path forward for the expeditious licensing of an Ebola vaccine.”

Dr. Modjarrad had been with MHRP full-time for only three months when the WHO called. He was requested by Dr. Vasee Moorthy, Head of the WHO Initiative for Vaccine Research, and recommended for the WHO assignment team by Dr. Barney Graham, Deputy Director of the NIH Vaccine Research Center (VRC), and Colonel Nelson Michael, Director of the MHRP. Dr. Modjarrad came to the MHRP from an infectious diseases fellowship at the VRC, where he worked to create and improve vaccines against respiratory viruses such as respiratory syncytial virus, influenza and MERS-CoV.

Dr. Modjarrad’s experience with the WHO Ebola vaccine team benefits his work at MHRP. He’s currently working on MHRP Ebola vaccine study RV429, a Phase II chimpanzee adenovirus type 3 Ebola vaccine study being conducted at MHRP’s Nigeria site. He’s also the co-protocol chair for the upcoming RV456, a Phase II Ebola vaccine candidate study that includes all MHRP clinical research sites in Africa and WRAIR.

Dr. Modjarrad is also leading efforts in other emerging viral vaccine research. He will be principal investigator on a first-in-human MERS-CoV vaccine study at WRAIR, which will begin in January 2016.