Newswise — ST. LOUIS – As scientists and doctors around the country step up to meet the COVID-19 pandemic threat, a physician and a laboratory scientist are sending aid to the heart of the effort to develop a vaccine through a generous donation to Saint Louis University’s Center for Vaccine Development.
Stephen C. Peiper, M.D. (Med ’77) and Zi-Xuan “Zoe” Wang, Ph.D., his wife, have given $750,000 to SLU to support research aimed at developing new vaccines for COVID-19 and other illnesses. This gift will establish a center of excellence in vaccine research and will be called the Stephen C. Peiper and Zi-Xuan Wang Institute for Vaccine Science and Policy.
SLU President Fred. P. Pestello, Ph.D., lauds the couple’s contribution, which supports Saint Louis University’s Accelerating Excellence Campaign.
“I am inspired by Drs Peiper and Wang's generosity and investment in the work of leading scientists at Saint Louis University,” Pestello said. “They realize that our infectious disease and vaccine research is second to none. It is gratifying to have successful healthcare experts in their own right acknowledge the substantial impact science at SLU has on the world.”
An alumnus of SLU’s School of Medicine, Peiper is the Peter A. Herbut Professor and Chair of the Department of Pathology, Anatomy and Cell Biology, Thomas Jefferson University, and Senior Vice President for the Enterprise Pathology and Laboratory Medicine Service Line of Jefferson Health System. Dr. Wang is the Scientific Director of the Molecular and Genomic Pathway Laboratory for the Jefferson Health System.
Dr. Peiper witnessed the strengths of SLU’s Vaccine Center up close in the early 2000s when the School of Medicine dean at the time invited him to consider joining the faculty.
“I reviewed the scientific programs, and there were multiple strong clinical, clinical/translational research and basic science programs,” Dr. Peiper said. “As I studied the Vaccine Center, I realized that it was second to none, a program that was a jewel in the crown of the institution.”
Dr. Peiper’s scientific work, in which he contributed to the discovery of a receptor that allows HIV to be transmitted into cells, also established his perspective on what he describes as the “war against infectious diseases.”
“It is clear to me that it will be critical to develop a vaccine for COVID-19 in order to win this war. I had discussed the possibility of supporting SLU’s School of Medicine with Dean Robert Wilmott, and things came together for me: a deadly pandemic, the necessity of vaccine development and the excellence of the SLU Center for Vaccine Research. The path forward became obvious.”
A clinical laboratory scientist, Dr. Wang is involved in the urgent work of COVID-19 testing. She has led COVID-19 testing programs and her laboratory has provided testing for the 14 hospitals in the Jefferson Health System.
“Having seen the rapid rise in the frequency of COVID-19 positive tests from this highly infectious agent, Zoe realizes that a vaccine to prevent infection is the best strategy,” Peiper said.
Robert Wilmott, M.D., dean of the School of Medicine and vice president for medical affairs at SLU, appreciates the timeliness of the gift from Peiper and Wang.
“SLU’s vaccine center is poised to fight back against COVID-19 by helping develop new treatments and vaccines,” Wilmott said. “This generous gift from Dr. Peiper and Dr. Wang could not come at a better time.”
SLU’s Center for Vaccine Development is one of an elite group of research facilities that investigates vaccines and treatments for infectious diseases. One of only nine federally-funded Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Units (VTEU), SLU is on the front lines in the fight against pandemics and global health crises.
Renewed as a federally-funded VTEU in December, SLU has been a VTEU member since 1989. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which is part of the National Institutes of Health, intends to provide approximately $29 million per year over seven years for VTEUs around the country and a companion leadership group.
As a VTEU, SLU can conduct Phase 1 through 4 vaccine and treatment trials, including clinical studies in collaboration with partners from industry.
Daniel Hoft, M.D., Ph.D., principal investigator of SLU’s VTEU and director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at SLU, leads SLU’s vaccine research efforts.
“This is a wonderful honor for our Center for Vaccine Development,” Hoft said. “I will do everything in my power to ensure this gift will further our shared vision of building upon our strengths.
SLU researchers have extensive experience developing vaccines and treatments for infectious diseases and have been on the forefront of protecting the public from bioterrorism and other emergent threats, including pandemic influenza, smallpox, tularemia, anthrax and plague. SLU’s work has supported the development and licensure of multiple vaccines that currently are in clinical use.
In addition to research on COVID-19, the Peipers’ gift will advance work at SLU to develop new vaccines for other diseases, support a new computational biology team and infrastructure and assist in recruiting new physician-scientists.
“Coming at such a difficult time, this recognition and financial assistance will invigorate our current efforts to fight an immediate threat,” Hoft said.
Established in 1836, Saint Louis University School of Medicine has the distinction of awarding the first medical degree west of the Mississippi River. The school educates physicians and biomedical scientists, conducts medical research, and provides health care on a local, national and international level. Research at the school seeks new cures and treatments in five key areas: infectious disease, liver disease, cancer, heart/lung disease, and aging and brain disorders.