Faces of Innovation: Dr. Heinz Weidenthaler, researcher at Bavarian Nordic
Faces of Innovation—a new GHTC project that features scientists on the front lines of research and development on new global health tools and technologies—profiles Dr. Heinz Weidenthaler, who we met at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH) Annual Conference, who developed a smallpox and monkeypox vaccine with Bavarian Nordic.
My name: Heinz Weidenthaler, MD
Where I work: Bavarian Nordic, which is headquartered in Denmark and has offices in Morrisville, North Carolina
I’m funded by: Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, National Institutes of Health, Department of Defense, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
My research: I am a medical doctor by training working for a company called Bavarian Nordic…We have done quite an extensive program in developing a smallpox and monkeypox vaccine with support of several federal agencies of the US, mostly BARDA, who has funded most of our clinical trials and helped us really tremendously throughout the development of this product. There were other contributions, NIH NIAID [National Institutes of Health National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases] provided support in specifically running several of the clinical trials that finally led to licensure of the product. The Department of Defense was incredibly helpful in running the key pivotal phase III trial, via USAMRIID [US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases]. We also have a collaboration with CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], who is using our product in a study right now in the Democratic Republic of Congo [DRC].
It is intended to be a safer alternative smallpox vaccine, which means it can protect the public, of course, both in America, but also on a global basis. Smallpox is a global threat, not a national threat at a given country…We received US licensure not only for smallpox, but also for monkeypox. There the global impact really comes in because the current epidemiology of monkeypox is endemic in several African countries like the DRC and Nigeria. This is something that, there will be an impact as soon as it is able to be deployed there. This is running right now with the CDC study in DRC, that could really save lives by preventing infections in these areas.
Motivation: I’m a medical doctor by training and joined the pharma/biotech industry quite a while ago, and instead of just working on another blood pressure pill that would be generic a few years later, I think working in the pox virus vaccine sphere really has an impact on saving lives. And doing that with the help of government funding, in terms of a really successful public private partnership here, I think is a tremendous success, and being part of that, and helping in the clinical development of our vaccine is really a motivating thing because it just has an impact of peoples’ lives.
Why federal support is critical: Global health is affecting all countries, including the US. Last year, we had these cases from Nigeria, people who were bringing cases of monkeypox, transmitting them to the UK, to Singapore, to Israel. The world is so globally connected, and infectious diseases that are endemic in sub-Saharan African countries can be anywhere in the world 24 hours later. I think this has a really huge impact on being prepared for all scenarios, and is of critical importance for the health of individuals worldwide, including the US.
When I’m not in the lab: I take care of my family. I have three kids back home. I try to be there as much as possible, which is not always easy, but I enjoy the time back home with my kids. I try to do some kinds of sports as far as I find the time for that. I play volleyball quite frequently.