Erica Ollmann Saphire, Ph.D. is a Professor of the La Jolla Institute for Immunology and one of the world’s leading experts in pandemic and emerging viruses, such as Ebola, Marburg and Lassa. Dr. Saphire directs the Viral Hemorrhagic Fever Immunotherapeutic Consortium (VIC), an NIH-funded Center of Excellence in Translational Research. The VIC unites 43 previously competing academic, industrial and government labs across five continents  to understand which antibodies are most effective in patients and to streamline the research pipeline to provide antibody therapeutics against Ebola, Marburg, Lassa and other viruses.

Dr. Saphire's research explains, at the molecular level, how and why viruses like Ebola and Lassa are pathogenic and provides the roadmap for developing antibody-based treatments. Her team has solved the structures of the Ebola, Sudan, Marburg, Bundibugyo and Lassa virus glycoproteins, explained how they remodel these structures as they drive themselves into cells, how their proteins suppress immune function and where human antibodies can defeat these viruses.

A recent discovery revealed why neutralizing antibodies had been so difficult to elicit against Lassa virus, and provided not only the templates for the needed vaccine, but the molecule itself: a Lassa surface glycoprotein engineered to remain in the right conformation to inspire the needed antibody response. This molecule is the basis for international vaccine efforts against Lassa.

Dr. Saphire is the recipient of numerous accolades and grants, including the Presidential Early Career Award in Science and Engineering presented by President Obama at the White House; the Gallo Award for Scientific Excellence and Leadership from the Global Virus Network; young investigator awards from the International Congress of Antiviral Research, the American Society for Microbiology, American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and the MRC Centre for Virus Research in the United Kingdom; the Investigators in the Pathogenesis of Infectious Disease Award from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, and the Surhain Sidhu award for the most outstanding contribution to the field of diffraction by a person within five years of the Ph.D. Dr. Saphire has been awarded a Fulbright Global Scholar fellowship from the United States Department of State and a Mercator Fellowship from the German research foundation, Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, to develop international collaborations around human health and molecular imaging through cryoelectron microscopy.

Dr. Saphire received a B.A. in biochemistry and cell biology and ecology and evolutionary biology from Rice University in Houston, Texas, and a Ph.D. in molecular biology from Scripps Research. She stayed on at Scripps Research as a Research Associate to conduct postdoctoral research and rose through the ranks to become a Professor in the Department of Immunology and Microbiology. In early 2019, Dr. Saphire joined La Jolla Institute for Immunology to establish a molecular imaging facility  for cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) at the Institute. The extremely detailed images produced by cryo-EM reveal precisely how essential mechanisms of the immune system operate. 

San Diego Researchers Help With Urgent Effort To Stop Ebola In Africa

“So we’re flying from San Diego to Congo with eight crates of supplies to go and do our laboratory work there and bring the data back here,” said Erica Ollmann Saphire, a professor at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology, and director of a consortium of


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From Wuhan to San Diego—How a mutation on the novel coronavirus has come to dominate the globe

Two variants of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), called G614 and D614, were circulating in mid-March. A new study shows that the G version of the virus has come to dominate cases around the world. They report that this mutation does not make the virus more deadly, but it does help the virus copy itself, resulting in a higher viral load, or "titer," in patients.
02-Jul-2020 12:05:10 PM EDT

“The recent resurgence of Lassa, the difficulties in containing Ebola outbreaks and the re-emergence of alphaviruses in multiple locations in the United States make development of therapies against these threats an urgent local and global concern,” said Dr

- San Diego Researchers Help With Urgent Effort To Stop Ebola In Africa

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