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Infectious Disease Research in Focus: Perspectives from Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, NIAID Director

Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), joined us for an engaging discussion on NIAID’s work in advancing basic science and early-phase clinical investigations across all areas of infectious, immunologic, and allergic diseases. She shared her insights on critical infectious diseases affecting people both in the United States and globally and highlighted NIAID’s vital contributions to the research and development of groundbreaking vaccines and treatments in response to public health emergencies. Dr. Marrazzo offers an inspiring outlook on the future of infectious disease research at NIAID, discussing the intersection of this field with data science and the importance of fostering diverse teams. Here are some of her thoughts on:

HIV prevention and treatment:
“This is a topic that’s very near and dear to my heart, as I have been involved in this [research] for a really long time. If you look at the incidence in specific age groups, there are some encouraging trends, largely in younger men who have sex with men, and that’s almost certainly because of an uptake of oral pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP. The problem is we have not been able to get those biomedical prevention tools to the other groups who need it, including older men and women. If you look globally, there’s a very similar situation with women in Sub Saharan Africa, the incidence remains unacceptably high. Thinking about what motivates these populations who are not driven to access this [HIV prevention] tool is going to be really important. The other issue is we can’t talk about this without talking about the role of stigma in limiting access to these tools. I will say that there has been some pretty good news in the past couple of months around HIV vaccines. We are also looking into other biomedical interventions. There are a couple of oral products that are being studied with very long-acting profiles.”

NIAID’s role in COVID and long COVID research:
“We are very involved, not only in thinking about ongoing coronavirus vaccine work, we’ve got a lot of work focusing on a pan-coronavirus vaccine, which would really help with the variant chasing path we continue to go down and with treatments. We are also involved in the trial that compares two doses of Paxlovid for management of long COVID. Thinking forward, I would like to think more carefully about how we could work with neurologists to design a really integrated, hypothesis-driven strategy for post-viral infectious inflammatory syndromes, including long COVID. There’s a clear need for it from the community standpoint and from a provider standpoint.”

H5N1 virus transmission and treatment options:
“The reason I remain concerned is because this is the first time we have seen this virus, not just in cows, but also in the mammary glands of any animal, at least to this degree. The concerns I have are related to the potential for mixing and the potential for increasing the interface between humans and infected animals. I’m also concerned that the surveillance is incomplete, because as much as health agencies are trying very hard to encourage ongoing influenza A surveillance, a lot of the folks working on these farms may be reluctant to come forward. It has the potential to not be good, but we are working very hard to continue to develop some of these things and we’ve got a couple of candidate vaccines that the Assistant Secretary’s Office for Pandemic Preparedness is working on.”

Watch the full discussion.