February  18 - Lecture 3: Dr. Glaunsinger

Professor Glaunsinger is a professor of PMB and MCB at UC Berkeley as well as an HHMI Investigator.  Demonstrating her commitment to scientific communication and mentoring, Professor Glaunsinger won UC Berkeley’s Faculty Mentor Award in 2018. She teaches an undergraduate course in Virology (MCB c114 / PMB c114).


From the perspective of the immune system, viruses are a vehicle carrying various protein antigens to launch an immune response against. Antibodies can be generated against any of these various antigens, but we are primarily interested in neutralizing antibodies - antibodies that can prevent the virus from binding and fusing with a cell’s surface. Because SARS-CoV-2’s Spike protein enables its fusion with our cells via the ACE-2 receptor, we are primarily concerned with Spike in vaccine design. mRNA vaccines (Moderna and Pfizer) and adenovirus vector vaccines use two different mechanisms to induce antibody responses against Spike protein. 


The SARS-CoV-2 vaccines have been developed four times as fast as any other vaccine in history. A combination of factors went into the speed of its development, including previous knowledge from other spillover events, significant advancement of new mRNA vaccine tech, unprecedented worldwide funding, and high infection rates speeding up phase 3 trials.


Listen to this recording to learn about this and more!


December 2 - Lecture 2: Dr. Veronica Miller

Professor Veronica Miller is an adjunct professor with UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health, originally from Manitoba, Canada. She has over 100 publications in the field of HIV treatment and regulatory strategies, and she teaches a course on the FDA and drug development, which was the focus of our talk.


Drug development can be described as a “progressive reduction of uncertainty” regarding its effectiveness and safety. The USFDA, which regulates up to 25% of the US economy, including over 80% of consumable products, oversees the three phases of trials for new drugs and vaccines. The FDA balances two roles: promoting drug development vs. protecting individuals.


There are a number of vaccines currently in trials, where the primary outcome measure is the number of participants with a first occurrence of COVID-19, starting 14 days after the second dose. The primary outcome measures of safety are the number of participants with adverse effects and the number of different side effects experienced to the vaccine or drug. There’s been surprisingly quick progress on SARS-CoV-2 research because, in many cases, other research has been put on hold. This has allowed the development of the novel mRNA based vaccines (Moderna and Pfizer) and fast-tracking of paperwork that is typically delayed.


October 26 - Lecture 1: Dr. Reingold

Dr. Reingold is UC Berkeley’s Division Head of Epidemiology and Biostatistics. In addition to teaching four courses at Cal, Dr. Reingold has worked for eight years at the CDC, and has directed/co-directed the CDC-funded California Emerging Infections Program since 1994. He’s on the WHO Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunizations, and has influence on international vaccine recommendations.

SARS-CoV-2 is a novel human disease following a natural zoonosis from bats. DNA-sequencing indicates that SARS-CoV-2 did not come from a Wuhan research lab. SARS-CoV-2 is unique among novel zoonoses, which are common, because of its high inter-personal infectious rate. While most zoonoses can’t be transmitted from person to person, COVID-19 went from 12 confirmed cases in California in February 2020 to 5.7 million in California by August 2020. Because the virus has a latency period of 2-14 days before patients show symptoms, one person can infect many people before the onset of symptoms, which significantly complicates contact tracing efforts. Luckily for vaccine researchers, SARS-CoV-2 mutates slowly for an RNA virus. Vaccine efforts are pushing us towards an effective vaccine faster than ever in scientific history. While some people might be worried about a “rushed” vaccine, there are significant hurdles to releasing a vaccine to the public. If and when a vaccine makes it through clinical trials, it will have been proven safe in a large cohort of people and statistically effective at preventing cases of COVID-19. Moving forward, challenges include manufacturing on a global scale, filling orders for mass vaccinations, preserving and safely distributing vaccines on a quick time scale, tracking who is and isn’t vaccinated, and prioritizing who gets vaccinated first.