Principal Research Scientist, Microsoft
by John Cairns
Sarah Gilbert, the vaccine knowledge project manager at Oxford University, was thrust into the spotlight with the advent of the novel coronavirus pandemic. As head of the world-leading team at Oxford racing to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, Gilbert is helping to fight the global threat. But while Gilbert’s well versed in vaccines, this challenge is unusual.
“I’ve been working on emerging pathogen vaccines for a while, but to move to the scale we are now working at is quite a change,” she tells Business Insider. The team working on vaccines in Oxford has expanded — and not always smoothly.
“We’ve had a few occasions where we have found that several people are all solving the same problem, but that’s better than no one thinking of it,” she adds. “Then we have to deal with all the media attention on top of that.”
Gilbert says the attention has its benefits, though. “Many of the usual barriers to progress — money, staff availability, time to review applications — have been removed and so we are making rapid progress,” she adds.
Whether or not a COVID-19 vaccine delivers, work ongoing now will help develop future vaccines against known emerging pathogens. And there are plenty. When asked what’s next for the lab post-COVID, Gilbert gives a list: “We were already working on MERS, Nipah, Lassa and Crimean Congo Haemorraghic Fever, and my colleagues were working on Rift Valley Fever, Ebola, Chikungunya and Zika vaccines. So all of those.”