Meet Dr. Kizzmekia S. Corbett, who discovered Moderna Covid-19 vaccine within 2 days

Meet Dr. Kizzmekia S. Corbett, who discovered Moderna Covid-19 vaccine within 2 days

Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, lead scientist on the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine team.

Photo credit: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; Photo Illustration: Gene Kim for CNBC Make It

At a December event hosted by the National Urban League, Dr. Anthony Fauci had one very important thing to say about the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine, aka “mRNA-1273,” approved by the FDA for emergency use on Dec. 18.

“The first thing you might want to say to my African-American brothers and sisters is that the vaccine that you’re going to be taking was developed by an African-American woman,” Fauci said. “And that is just a fact.”

Indeed, Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, a 35-year-old viral immunologist and research fellow in the Vaccine Research Center of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is the lead scientist on the team that developed the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine. She built on her six years of experience studying the spike proteins of other coronaviruses like SARS and MERS in order to design the vaccine within two days of the novel coronavirus being discovered. (Spike proteins sit on the surface of coronaviruses and penetrate human cells, causing infection.)

“I like to call it the plug-and-play approach,” Corbett, who has a PhD in microbiology and immunology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said in a virtual NIH lecture on Oct. 15.

“Basically the idea [is] that we had so much knowledge based on work from us and from other labs previously that we were able to pull the trigger on vaccine development and start the ball rolling toward a phase 1 clinical trial.” —Cory Stieg

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