Meet the Irish scientist behind the leading Covid-19 vaccine

Meet the Irish scientist behind the leading Covid-19 vaccine

By Tracy Cabrera

SINGLED OUT by the World Health Organization (WHO) in the Covid-19 vaccine trials, Irish scientist Adrian Hill leads the global charge in the search for a coronavirus vaccine and his team of researchers at Oxford University is reportedly close to finding the much sought-after vaccine.

But who is he and how did he rise to a position of such prominence?

Born in Dublin, Hill was educated at Belvedere College and studied medicine at Trinity College before transferring to the University of Oxford in 1978 to complete his medical degree there in 1982. He remained at Oxford for postgraduate studies thereafter and emerged with a Doctor of Philosophy degree in 1986. From there on, Hill’s uncle who was a missionary priest in Africa served as his inspiration, igniting the young Adrian’s interest in vaccines and tropical medicine.

Irish Scientist Adrian Hill in a laboratory
Irish Scientist Adrian Hill in a laboratory.

After joining the newly-created Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine at Oxford in 1988, Hill began working on immunogenetics in West Africa and subsequently became lead of an academic course on Human and Animal Vaccinology. He now serves as Director of the Jenner Institute, an Oxford institute which develops vaccines and carries out clinical trials for diseases, including malaria and Ebola.

While Hill is slowly becoming a household name as the race to find a coronavirus vaccine ramps up, he had already cemented his growing reputation in the scientific community for his work on an Ebola vaccine in 2014. Hill’s team led the first clinical trial of an Ebola vaccine, targeting the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa.

His group has also developed malaria vaccines that were tested in clinical trials. The vaccine is currently in large-scale trials in children in sub-Saharan Africa and is one of the most promising vaccines against the disease.

Hill is an ardent believer in the power of molecular medicine to deliver new healthcare interventions for some of the poorest communities on the planet.

With the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, however, Hill’s priorities have shifted focus and he is now the leading candidate to develop a vaccine against the virus. Early results from his team’s initial trials have yielded extremely positive news and some reports speculate that the vaccine may be ready by as early as September.

The vaccine potentially offers ‘double protection’ against the coronavirus, building up appropriate antibodies and T-cells in test subjects.

Multinational pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca has reportedly ordered over 400 million doses of the vaccine to distribute by September or October based on the results of the trials.

Hill’s vaccine will now potentially head to ‘challenge trials’, where researchers deliberately attempt to infect test subjects with the virus after they have been given a dose of the vaccine.

Hill has two children with his former wife, Sunetra Guptta who is also a well-known Indian novelist, and professor of theoretical epidemiology at the University of Oxford with an interest in infectious disease agents.

The 61-year-old is clearly one of the brightest in his field and, right now, the world needs him to work some magic.

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