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​Pitt Announces New Director of the Center for Vaccine Research

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Allison Hydzik
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PITTSBURGH – A distinguished molecular virologist and vaccine designer will lead the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Vaccine Research (CVR), which facilitates and conducts studies focused on the development of diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines for infectious diseases that pose risks to global public health and security. The announcement follows a nearly two-year, international search.

W. Paul Duprex, Ph.D., who also will hold the Jonas Salk Chair for Vaccine Research at Pitt, is an expert in measles and mumps viruses, and studies barriers that stop viruses jumping from animals to humans. This week, Duprex was awarded a grant from the Human Frontiers in Science Program – an international organization that funds pioneering biological research – for a study on which he will collaborate with researchers in Berlin and Glasgow. He will bring his complete research team, which currently is funded by the National Institutes of Health, Zoetis LLC and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, with him to Pitt.

“Dr. Duprex has a deep passion for not only understanding infectious diseases, but also for transforming that knowledge into practical developments, such as vaccines, that will protect public health,” said Arthur S. Levine, M.D., senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and John and Gertrude Petersen Dean of Medicine at Pitt. “Under his leadership, the vaccine development legacy that Pitt began with Dr. Jonas Salk will continue to thrive and make Pittsburgh proud.”

Duprex comes to Pitt from the Boston University School of Medicine, where he served as professor of microbiology and director of bioimaging at the university’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL). He will direct Pitt’s Regional Biocontainment Laboratory, a high-security facility embedded in CVR that allows scientists to safely contain and examine potentially dangerous pathogens.

“I’m excited to be joining an institution with such a proud history of vaccine development and a top-notch group of scientists doing incredibly innovative infectious disease research,” said Duprex, now professor of microbiology and molecular genetics in Pitt’s School of Medicine. “I’m a firm believer in the need for scientists to engage with the public and have meaningful conversations on the value of vaccines. That’s why I enjoy Twitter and tweet as @10queues. Pittsburgh is a fantastic city for me to further my research, create new connections and build new bridges.”

Saleem A. Khan, Ph.D., professor of microbiology and molecular genetics at Pitt, served as interim director of the CVR, after founding director Donald S. Burke, M.D., dean of Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health, stepped down and co-director Ronald Montelaro, Ph.D., retired in 2016.

In 1994, Duprex earned his Ph.D. in molecular virology from Queen’s University Belfast in the United Kingdom, following research in biocontainment on foot-and-mouth disease virus at The Pirbright Institute. Since then, he’s done research at The Queen’s University of Belfast and Boston University, as well as serving as principal scientist and head of the Department of Emerging Sciences and Technologies at Johnson & Johnson. He recently was elected as a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology.

Duprex says his goals for the CVR go beyond infectious disease studies.

“CVR is not just about virus research – it’s about vaccine research and that requires us to be creative vaccinologists and leverage state-of the-art delivery technologies in cross-departmental, multidisciplinary research initiatives,” Duprex said. “Internal and external collaboration will be a foundational plank of CVR; we will be actively outward-looking. The vast majority of vaccines are still given by injection, but Pitt has exciting, ongoing research to change that and deliver them in ways that don’t involve large needles. This offers tremendous opportunities to develop temperature-stable vaccines, something that motivates me greatly since this could have a major impact on delivery in the developing world. New pathogens continually emerge, and keeping one step ahead is critical since #vaccineswork.”

Credit: Queens University Belfast

W. Paul Duprex, Ph.D.
(click image for high-res version)