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Meet Kizzmekia Corbett, the talented young scientist leading the Coronavirus vaccine trials

Meet Kizzmekia Corbett, the talented young scientist leading the Coronavirus vaccine trials

The 34-year-old and her team have been working around the clock to develop a vaccine that will undoubtedly be a game-changer in the world's battle against the deadly virus.

In the months since the initial days of the pandemic, it's become quite evident that the world's best bet against the virus is the development of a vaccine. Although countries like New Zealand have seen some success in curbing the spread of Novel Coronavirus within their borders, unless a permanent remedy becomes available—and that too at the latest—human civilization will be forced to radically change the way we've been living. This is where Kizzmekia Corbett, a research fellow at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, is proving to be a name worth remembering.



 

According to PEOPLE, the 34-year-old and her team have been working around the clock to develop a vaccine that will undoubtedly be a game-changer in the world's battle against the deadly virus. They've already started first-stage clinical trials of a potential vaccine, kicking it off last month in Seattle or as Dr. Anthony Fauci put it, in "record speed." It only took them about 2 months to get to this stage whereas it took 20 months to get a SARS vaccine to trial in 2003. According to NBC News, Corbett and her team can now boast of having made the fastest progress ever toward a possible vaccine for a novel pathogen; a vaccine that's the first of its kind in the world.



 

If successful—i.e. if the phase one, two, and three clinical trials prove that the team has produced a safe, working vaccine—the respiratory disease caused by the Novel Coronavirus could become preventable by early to mid-2021. "There was, and is, already a fair amount of pressure," said Corbett. "A lot of people are banking on us or feel that we have a product that could, at least, be part of the answer this world needs. And, well, whew, just saying that out loud is not easy."



 

In some ways, Corbett was always destined to be leading the charge against this virus. Dr. Barney Graham, the deputy director of NIH Vaccine Research Center, still remembers the day he met the then undergraduate 12 years ago. Corbett, who was doing summer work at the center at the time, stood out from others with her ambitious career plan. "She said, 'I want your job,'" Graham recalled. "From the very beginning, she was really pretty bold in her aspirations. And I, if I recall correctly, I was just glad to hear help was coming."



 

Corbett knew with incredible clarity that the path to her ultimate goal included getting a doctorate and ideally working on rapid vaccine development. The latter, in particular, left Graham highly impressed as rapid vaccine development—especially for novel pathogens that could spark pandemics—requires singular focus and talented scientists willing to give it everything they have. Corbett steadily moved towards her goal, majoring in biology and sociology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and devoting time to lab and fieldwork on health outcomes in diverse communities. In 2014, she earned a doctorate from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.



 

Today, Corbett is a fellow at Graham's center leading the coronavirus vaccine development team. "She's not your average pocket-protector scientist," said Andrew Ward—a professor at Scripps Research—who is a part of her team. "There's pressure, constant pressure, in a situation like this where the speed at which we've gone to clinical trials is almost unprecedented. And I think there's a lot of realism on the team that this is a shot, maybe not even our best shot, but a good shot, given the pressing need. And Kizzy, to me, really epitomizes that. She's putting in long, long hours, doing critical, potentially world-altering work, at what is naturally a pretty high-pressure time in her career, in this incredibly focused way."



 

Corbett began working on coronaviruses when she joined the NIH's Vaccine Research Center as a postdoctoral fellow in 2014. "SARS and MERS, two coronaviruses, had already caused massive outbreaks," she explained. "And these big, challenging questions remained, along with the fact that it was clear that it could happen again. It was looming out there and just a matter of time." 



 

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