Barney S. Graham is an immunologist, virologist and clinical trials physician. He currently serves as the Deputy Director of the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institutes of Health and the Chief of the Viral Pathogenesis Laboratory.
One comment in Dr. Graham’s short biography defines the importance of Dr. Graham’s work. “He is one of the first people called upon when a deadly virus outbreak occurs,” the bio declares. That statement rang true in early January of 2020 when Dr. Graham was called upon to develop a vaccine for COVID-19.
In the early days of the pandemic, Graham built upon his research of virus spike proteins in MERS and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) to find ways to defeat the novel coronavirus. Leveraging an existing relationship with Moderna, Graham brought his modified spike protein to the biotech startup’s messenger-RNA platform and began developing plans for a vaccine. He delivered his plans on January 13, 2020 (just days after the SARS-Cov-2 sequence was provided by the Chinese), and six weeks later, Moderna began shipping vials of the vaccine for clinical trials. Pfizer also used Graham’s modified spike protein in its vaccine, and Eli Lily utilized Graham’s spike protein in its monoclonal antibody treatment.
Graham has earned the title of “the chief architect of the first authorized COVID vaccines,” and because of the high levels of effectiveness and the speed in which the vaccines were developed, thousands – perhaps millions – of lives will be saved by this University of Kansas School of Medicine alumnus. High praise comes from Dr. Anthony Fauci, Graham’s supervisor at the NIH. Of Graham, Fauci said, “He understands vaccinology better than anyone I know.”
Even before his work with COVID-19, Dr. Graham had been improving lives around the world through vaccine development and research. When faced with fighting the Ebola and Zika viruses, the NIH and World Health Organization immediately sought Dr. Graham’s help. He rose to the challenge and established programs to create and evaluate vaccines for those diseases. His work with RSV, a virus that causes more hospitalizations of children under five than any other virus, is currently in Phase III human trials.
Dr. Graham also has empowered a generation of new investigators by sharing his passion with trainees. He mentors medical students, fellows, doctoral candidates and post-doctoral scholars. He hosts sabbaticals for visiting professors from institutions all over the world so they can work on public health issues.
Before earning his M.D. from the University of Kansas School of Medicine in 1979, Graham graduated valedictorian of Paola (Kansas) High School and magna cum laude from Rice University. He continued his training at Vanderbilt University where he completed his internship, residency, two chief residencies and an infectious diseases fellowship. Not quite done with his education, he also earned his Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology in 1991 from Vanderbilt.