We interviewed the Principal Investigators responsible for leading each of the CIVICs Centers as part of a two-part interview series. Previously, we learned about the Principal Investigators at the Sinai-Emory Multi-Institutional CIVIC (SEM CIVIC), Dr. Florian Krammer and Dr. Rafi Ahmed. This article provides an introduction to SEM CIVIC from the perspectives of Dr. Florian Krammer and Dr. Rafi Ahmed.
If you had to make an elevator pitch for CIVICs, what would you say?
Tell me the origin story of your Center.
Dr. Krammer: Rafi and I had a phone call…
Dr. Ahmed: When the announcement came out for creating Centers within CIVICs, I connected with Florian. Emory University and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai have worked together in the past and are good partners. Once we all agreed to be part of the CIVICs enterprise, we built upon collaborations that were already in place. Once we had our Center, we then chose the most energetic researcher to be the PI which, of course, was Florian. After that we brought on the best researchers to help and create SEM CIVIC.
Explain the scientific aims of your Center to me, but pretend I’m a high schooler.
Dr. Krammer: People need to get vaccines every year because the influenza virus changes so much. We are developing a flu shot that you would only have to take twice – and it wouldn’t matter if the virus changes – the vaccine would still protect you.
We have developed several vaccine candidates that are moving into clinical trials, both based on the most common surface proteins, hemagglutinin (HA) and neuraminidase (NA). Our clinical trials are very exciting! In addition to our influenza work, our Center also has characterized the antibody response to SARS-CoV-2 infection and vaccination.
Dr. Ahmed: The SEM CIVIC has two main aims – the first is to make sure we develop broadly cross-reactive antibodies that respond to multiple influenza viruses. The second aim is to have the vaccine cause a robust immune response. To have a truly effective vaccine, it has to elicit long living antibodies and infected cells have to be eliminated.
If you had to recommend another person from your Center for me to interview, who would it be, and why?
Dr. Ahmed: Everyone in our Center is great. However, to get a full view of the work our Center does, I would talk to Dr. Ian Wilson, and Dr. Andrew Ward about their work on structural biology. Also, Dr. Yoshihiro Kawaoka and Dr. Shane Crotty both are great influenza virologists and have novel ideas about vaccinations.