Expert to Share Current Efforts to Combat Emerging Diseases

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Erica Ollmann Saphire, PhD, MBA

Citation: Kidney News 15, 10/11

With the COVID-19 pandemic raising questions about what might be next, a virology researcher will present a fresh perspective on approaching, new diseases at a state-of-the-art lecture on Saturday, November 4.

Erica Ollmann Saphire, PhD, MBA, president and chief executive officer of the La Jolla Institute for Immunology, will speak on “Antibodies Against Emerging Infectious Diseases: Global Collaborations.”

A structural biologist, virologist, and immunologist, Dr. Saphire's research has examined at the molecular level how and why viruses are pathogenic and provided a roadmap for medical defenses against them. Her team has elucidated the structures of glycoproteins from Ebola, Sudan, Marburg, Bundibugyo, and Lassa viruses; how the viruses mediate entry into cells; how their proteins suppress immune function; and where human antibodies can defeat these viruses.

Her laboratory's research has further revealed how viral matrix proteins hijack host lipids to polymerize virus assembly and proved that certain viral proteins rearrange into different structures at different times for different functions. A recent discovery in her laboratory revealed why neutralizing antibodies had been so difficult to elicit against the Lassa virus and provided the template for a vaccine. Other work in the laboratory has shown how viruses replicate and assemble using a variety of biophysical, biochemical, and immunological methods.

Dr. Saphire leads the Viral Hemorrhagic Fever Immunotherapeutic Consortium, which is supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The consortium has united 44 previously competing academic, industrial, and government laboratories across five continents to understand and provide antibody therapeutics against Ebola, Marburg, Lassa, and other viruses.

She is also leading a consortium supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to evaluate antibody therapeutics against SARS-CoV-2 to prevent and treat COVID-19.

Dr. Saphire's work has been recognized by the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, as well as young investigator awards from the International Conference on Antiviral Research, American Society for Microbiology, and Medical Research Council (MRC) Centre for Virus Research in the United Kingdom. She has received a Fulbright Global Scholar fellowship from the U.S. State Department and a Mercator fellowship from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft to develop international collaborations using cryoelectron microscopy to further global health.

Dr. Saphire received her doctoral degree from Scripps Research. After postdoctoral work at Scripps Research, she joined the faculty there as an assistant professor in 2003 and became a full professor in 2012. She joined the La Jolla Institute for Immunology in 2019.