April 25, 2023
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, has named Theodore (Ted) C. Pierson, Ph.D., as the new director of its Dale and Betty Bumpers Vaccine Research Center (VRC) in Bethesda, Maryland. In this role, Dr. Pierson will lead a comprehensive research program focused on the design, development and testing of candidate vaccines and biologics against HIV/AIDS, coronaviruses, influenza and emerging infectious diseases with pandemic potential.
“Ted brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise in virology and human immune responses to viruses. He has played a key role in developing antiviral vaccines and furthering our understanding of important viruses transmitted by mosquitoes and ticks—arboviruses—and how neutralizing antibodies work against flaviviruses, such as Zika virus,” said Acting NIAID Director Hugh Auchincloss, M.D. “He is exceptionally well-suited to lead the VRC and its continued pursuit of innovative basic, translational and clinical discovery.”
Prior to his VRC appointment, Dr. Pierson served as a senior investigator and chief of NIAID’s Laboratory of Viral Diseases, a position he had held since 2017. The Laboratory of Viral Diseases, part of NIAID’s Division of Intramural Research, explores multiple facets of the biology, evolution, pathogenesis and immunology of a diverse group of human viruses to guide the development of preventive and treatment measures. Dr. Pierson’s research has focused on fundamental and translational questions related to the structure of arboviruses and their interactions with cells, and on humoral (antibody-mediated) immunity, to enable the development of vaccines and techniques for evaluating immune responses. He and his laboratory team collaborated closely with the VRC to develop and characterize DNA vaccines to prevent Zika virus infection; these candidate vaccines were evaluated in Phase 1 and Phase 2b clinical trials. Additionally, he and his team conducted preclinical and clinical testing of a VRC vaccine candidate against Chikungunya virus, another mosquito-transmitted virus. That vaccine candidate was assessed in both a Phase 2 clinical trial led by NIAID, and a Phase 3 trial launched in 2021 by Emergent BioSolutions, based in Gaithersburg, Maryland.
Further, Dr. Pierson has played a leading role in developing NIAID’s scientific pandemic preparedness and response plans, including serving on the institute’s Pandemic Preparedness Working Group.
Dr. Pierson is a graduate of Eckerd College, based in St. Petersburg, Florida., and received his Ph.D. from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. He began his NIAID career in 2005 and was awarded tenure in 2011. He is widely recognized for being an outstanding and dedicated mentor who has guided the careers of many staff and trainees in the Laboratory of Viral Diseases. He is a recipient of the NIH Director’s Ruth L. Kirschstein Mentoring Award and is an American Academy of Microbiology Fellow.
Dr. Pierson replaces John R. Mascola, M.D., who retired from federal service in February 2022. Richard (Rick) A. Koup, M.D., who has been serving as VRC acting director, will return to his role as VRC deputy director and chief of its Immunology Laboratory.
“I would like to thank and acknowledge Dr. Rick Koup and other members of the VRC’s senior staff for their outstanding leadership during this transition period,” said Dr. Auchincloss. “It is through their guidance and stewardship that the VRC maintained its commitment to scientific excellence.”
NIAID conducts and supports research—at NIH, throughout the United States, and worldwide—to study the causes of infectious and immune-mediated diseases, and to develop better means of preventing, diagnosing and treating these illnesses. News releases, fact sheets and other NIAID-related materials are available on the NIAID website.