Kizzmekia Corbett of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health was named one of four “heroes of the year” for 2021 by TIME magazine for helping develop the mRNA-based vaccine platform that enabled the creation of innovative and highly effective COVID-19 vaccines.
Corbett, assistant professor of immunology and infectious diseases, worked on vaccine development while at the Vaccine Research Center (VRC) of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, as part of the team working with Barney Graham, former deputy director of the VRC. Graham was also named a TIME hero, as were biochemist Katalin Kariko and immunologist Drew Weissman, whose work also played a key role in the development of the mRNA platform.
By 2019, Corbett and her colleagues had figured out how to design the spike protein—the part of coronaviruses that attach to human cells—so that the immune system could mount an effective response. “It was, essentially, advance work for the coming pandemic,” according to a December 13, 2021 article in TIME.
In early January 2020, when Chinese scientists published the sequence of the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, Corbett and the VRC team were able to fashion a vaccine specifically aimed at the new pathogen.
Corbett said that mRNA vaccines will also be able to help humanity defend against other new viruses. “If we as scientists learn how to make a vaccine for a cousin in a viral family, and one of those cousins decides to make a pandemic, then we’ll be ready, because we can apply the knowledge from one virus and vaccine to another in a plug-and-play way,” she said.
Read the TIME article: TIME 2021 Heroes of the Year: The Miracle Workers
Vaccine researcher Kizzmekia Corbett wins top honor for federal service (Harvard Chan School news)
Kizzmekia Corbett is just getting started (Harvard Public Health magazine)