The historically rapid rollout of COVID-19 vaccines across the country was in part possible because of decades of work from leading researchers across the globe.
One such scientist is Dr. Phillip Felgner, professor of physiology and biophysics and director of the UCI Vaccine Research and Development Center and the university’s Protein Microarray Laboratory.
It’s been nearly two years since the initial rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, and yet, Felgner is busier than ever.
“If we thought we were busy during the first year of the pandemic, we are 10 times busier now,” Felgner told the Business Journal.
He and his team have been hard at work this year using the breakthrough technology used for the vaccines for other health issues, such as sickle cell disease and cancer.
“The UCI medical center was given 6,000 doses of the vaccine the day after it was approved by the FDA, and we saw that as a real testament to our leadership,” Felgner said.
“We vaccinated 6,000 people and measured their immune responses, which had a tremendous response. Now, we’re involved in the development of this same technology for other infections, from HIV and malaria to even cancer.
“There’s so much promise.”
Felgner’s contribution to the vaccine, which first kicked off with research breakthroughs in the early 1980s, have been lauded in the industry as an outstanding feat in the history of scientific research, and earned him the Global Impact Award at the Business Journal’s seventh annual Innovator of the Year Awards last September.
More recently, Felgner was lauded at a local event called the Celebration of Heroes gala, organized by longtime local banker and tax attorney Doug Freeman and fellow philanthropy-focused exec, Zion Enterprises founder Charlie Zhang.
The new widespread availability of mRNA—bolstered by billions of dollars of government grants during the pandemic—and the effective formulations of lipid nano particles demonstrated in the vaccines have pushed scientists like Felgner into a new era of healthcare research.
While the cancer research is complicated and still in early stages, Felgner has seen strong signs of feasibility of using the vaccine technology for correcting genetic disorders, like sickle cell disease.
“It’s remarkable how quickly the proof-of-concept experiments are happening,” Felgner said.
“What we struggled to make work several years ago are now coming together quickly.
“It’s been a positive consequence to come out of the crisis.”