Kathleen Neuzil, MD, MPH, FIDSA, the Myron M. Levine, MD, DTPH, Professor in Vaccinology and director of the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s (UMSOM) Center for Vaccine Development and Global Health (CVD), has been named this year’s “Marylander of the Year” by The Baltimore Sun. In a historic and challenging year dominated by COVID-19, The Sun editors also named front-line health care and service workers as co-recipients along with Neuzil, for their essential roles in the battle against the novel coronavirus.
Neuzil, who is among the world’s foremost vaccine researchers, was recognized along with the entire team at CVD, for her unprecedented leadership and achievement in vaccine testing and treatment for COVID-19. The CVD team has devoted most of 2020 to researching and testing potential vaccine candidates and treatments that could help end the COVID-19 pandemic.
It has been a notable year for UMSOM and its expansive COVID-19 response, involving each of its major research institutes — CVD, as well as UMSOM’s Institute for Genome Science (IGS) and the Institute of Human Virology (IHV). IGS has collaborated with the University of Maryland Pathology Associates to launch a large-scale statewide COVID-19 testing program for the State of Maryland. IHV has conducted major COVID-19-related studies and basic science research on related viruses. These include innovative studies on the impact of climate on COVID-19, as well as research showing that stimulation of innate immunity by live attenuated vaccines could provide temporary protection against coronavirus.
CVD's National and International Response
At the forefront, Neuzil and the CVD team’s contributions to the pandemic have been broad, and included clinical research, national and international leadership in COVID-19 response, and policy and educational leadership roles. She and others at CVD have shared their expertise broadly and generously through work with local and national media outlets, and through education programs for their peers and the public. Likewise, Neuzil and the CVD have made major contributions to the design and execution of studies on prevention and treatment of COVID-19, and on local and national policy through innovative design concepts and transmission modeling activities.
"This has been a historic year with monumental achievements for the UMSOM," said E. Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBA, executive vice president for medical affairs, the John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor and UMSOM dean. “We could not be more proud of Dr. Neuzil and the CVD team for their expertise and their laser focus on the pandemic as the nation faced these uncharted challenges. Our successes were due to a collaborative effort with so many other UMSOM faculty and laboratory researchers and other staff members. It has truly been extraordinary.”
Cynthia Egan, chair of the UMSOM Board of Visitors, who initially nominated Neuzil for the award, said, “On behalf of the Board of Visitors, I want to recognize Dr. Neuzil and the scientists at the UMSOM for leading the charge in vaccine development, treatment, and testing. It has been an honor to witness the extraordinary efforts that will help to get our lives back to normal and to recognize the absolute tireless leadership of Dr. Kathy Neuzil.”
CVD’s Legacy of Leadership
The COVID-19 vaccines are just the latest in a long series of milestones by the CVD over more than four decades. The CVD was founded in 1974 by Myron M. (“Mike”) Levine, MD, DTPH, the Simon and Bessie Grollman Distinguished Professor, and professor of medicine and pediatrics. Under Levine’s leadership, the CVD grew into one the most recognized entities for developing, testing, and implementing vaccines in the world.
For more than 40 years, the CVD has conducted a wide range of research relating to the development of vaccines for a variety of diseases, including cholera, typhoid fever, paratyphoid fever, non-typhoidal Salmonella disease, shigellosis, Escherichia coli diarrhea, malaria, and other infectious diseases, including influenza. The CVD also developed new delivery systems, as well as public health and vaccine policy around the world, including in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
Levine, who is now the UMSOM associate dean for global health, vaccinology, and infectious diseases, received worldwide attention for leading the CVD’s direct involvement in the World Health Organization’s (WHO) global consortium for accelerated testing of a new Ebola vaccine candidate at CVD-Mali in West Africa and CVD-Baltimore.
He is currently serving on the overall Data and Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB) for the Operation Warp Speed coronavirus vaccine trials. He also serves as an expert consultant for the WHO on committees related to challenge studies.
Leading the Charge Against COVID-19
In May, Neuzil and the CVD team initiated the first study on the Pfizer vaccine — a vaccine that would later achieve the first Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) in the United States. In June, Neuzil took the reins as a co-principal investigator for the national COVID-19 Prevention Network, which was formed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to bring together the experience and expertise of clinical research sites.
The goal was to address the pressing need for vaccines and monoclonal antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Neuzil co-led this major effort — now comprising vaccines from AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, and Novavax — to develop, test, and launch an effective COVID-19 vaccine.
Neuzil’s team has been at the forefront of nearly every major prevention and treatment initiative aimed at saving lives from COVID-19. She and her CVD colleagues were instrumental in a definitive trial of hydroxychloroquine that showed no benefit of the drug for postexposure prophylaxis.
CVD tested the vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna that have received emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. CVD senior scientist Karen Kotloff, MD, professor of pediatrics at UMSOM and division head of ped-infectious diseases and tropical medicine, is the global principal investigator for the Phase 3 clinical trial, testing the safety and effectiveness of NVX-CoV2373, developed by U.S. biotechnology company Novavax, Inc. This vaccine candidate will soon enter Phase 3 trials and will study special populations, including children.
“The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines represent groundbreaking collaborations between Dr. Neuzil, her UMSOM CVD team, and scientists worldwide involved in doing the investigational work that ultimately led to the FDA’s emergency authorization of both vaccine candidates,” said Vice Dean for Academic Affairs James Kaper, PhD, who is also the James and Carolyn Frenkil Distinguished Dean’s Professor, and chair, Department of Microbiology & Immunology. “As they now turn to testing the Novavax vaccine candidate, I am confident that the team’s vast scientific expertise and eye toward diversity in recruitment will bode well for evaluating this additional possibility for helping to address the COVID-19 pandemic."
Pathway to Leadership
Neuzil’s professional background made her ideally suited for confronting COVID-19. She has conducted clinical and epidemiologic studies on vaccine-preventable diseases, yielding high-profile publications that inform policy decisions and public health actions. At the global nonprofit Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH), Neuzil was instrumental in the introductions of rotavirus, HPV, and Japanese encephalitis vaccines. At CVD, she leads a large Gates Foundation-funded consortium (TyVac) to accelerate the introduction of typhoid vaccines into low-resource countries, and she has a robust influenza research program.
Neuzil's research capabilities are complemented by nearly 20 years of involvement in domestic and international policy. She currently serves as a member of the coronavirus vaccine working group for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and as the only U.S. member of the World Health Organization Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on Immunization. She has contributed to the literature of more than 230 scientific publications on vaccines and infectious diseases, with original research articles on SARS-CoV-2 vaccines, and policy and perspective pieces on SARS-CoV-2 challenge models and innovative trial design.
Front-Line Workers Also Honored
The Sun also recognized all front-line workers — including those who work in health care, grocery stores, mail and package delivery, daycare, schools, and people who provide other essential needs — as “Marylanders of the Year.”
“I join University of Maryland Medical System President Dr. Mohan Suntha, and University of Maryland Medical Center President and CEO Dr. Bert O'Malley, in recognizing our front-line health employees and clinicians, as well as other essential service workers, who have worked tirelessly throughout this pandemic,” Reece said. “They have been an inspiration and blessing to all of us, and I congratulate our front-line workers for being deservedly named 'Marylanders of the Year.'"