Sir Ernst Chain Lecture 2024: Vaccine development in a pandemic

Imperial College

June 4

Lecture Theatre 200, City and Guilds Building

Join Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert for the Sir Ernst Chain Lecture 2024 from the Department of Life Sciences.

Register to attend on Eventbrite

Vaccine development in a pandemic

The 2014 outbreak of Ebola virus disease in West Africa highlighted the lack of preparedness for combating infectious disease outbreaks. Since 1976, vaccine development had proceeded slowly and no candidate vaccines had progressed further than phase I trials. Ebola is only one of many known viruses with the potential to cause outbreaks. With the support of the WHO in identifying priority pathogens, and the formation of CEPI to provide funding, vaccine development was initiated with the aim of having vaccines available in readiness for future disease outbreaks.

‘Disease X’, to represent a disease caused by a previously unknown pathogen, was also considered. In the first days of 2020, the first ‘Disease X’ outbreak, caused by a virus later named SARS-CoV-2 occurred. Vaccine developers found ourselves attempting to put into place plans that were at an early stage of development, had not been funded and had not therefore been tested. Rather than working to produce a vaccine which could then be deployed in the ‘outbreak area’ we found ourselves attempting to develop a vaccine against a novel pathogen that was causing a pandemic whilst we ourselves were in the grip of that pandemic with every aspect of our work affected.


Professor Gilbert joined the Nuffield Department of Medicine at Oxford University in 1994 and became part of the Jenner Institute (within NDM) when it was founded in 2005. Her chief research interest is the development of viral vectored vaccines that work by inducing strong and protective immune responses. She leads work on influenza vaccine development as well as vaccines for many different emerging pathogens, including Nipah virus, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), and Lassa virus.

Professor Gilbert’s work also focuses on the rapid transfer of vaccines into GMP manufacturing and first in human trials. This is achieved through collaboration with colleagues in the Clinical Biomanufacturing Facility and Centre for Clinical Vaccinology and Tropical Medicine, all situated on the Old Road Campus in Oxford.

Professor Gilbert is a Principal Investigator at the Pandemic Sciences Institute at the University of Oxford and was the Oxford Project Leader for ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, a vaccine against the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. This vaccine, tested by the University of Oxford in clinical trials of over 23,000 people in the UK, Brazil and South Africa, was subsequently used in over 180 countries in the fight against the Covid-19 Pandemic is estimated to have saved more than six million lives in its first year of use.