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Tonya Colpitts, PhD
Director, Virology Infectious Disease Research, Moderna
Faculty, National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL), Boston University

Professional Summary

Dr. Colpitts is a molecular virologist currently focused on prophylactic and therapeutic infectious disease research & development. She has led the Virology team at Moderna since 2020, where she steers several cross functional vaccine program teams in a matrix environment to initiate and drive infectious disease programs and discovery projects. Dr. Colpitts has been faculty at the National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL) at Boston University since 2017, where collaborative studies include establishing relevant animal challenge models for global health pathogens and vaccine testing, development of transmission-blocking vaccines for vector-borne diseases and incorporation of vector elements to adjuvant traditional vaccine platforms, including mRNA.

In a distinguished academic career, Dr. Colpitts’ research focused on arbovirus biology, infection and transmission using cell, mosquito and animal models to investigate pathogenesis as well as the impact of infection on the human and vector environment and systems. She received her PhD at University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) at Galveston and went on to do a postdoctoral fellowship at Yale University School of Medicine, Infectious Diseases. She has been an independent Principal Investigator and Director of BSL/ACL3 Laboratories at Tulane University School of Public Health & Tropical Medicine, University of South Carolina School of Medicine, and Boston University School of Medicine. Her laboratory group has maintained a consistently strong record of research accomplishments and publications in the areas of molecular virology, host-pathogen interactions, arboviral pathogenesis and viral immunology.

At Moderna, Dr. Colpitts’ talented Virology team has ongoing efforts driving over 20 therapeutic and/or prophylactic vaccine programs targeting viral pathogens, from preclinical discovery through clinical trials to market and commercialization. These vaccines include many infectious viruses impacting human morbidity and mortality globally, including Zika virus, SARS-CoV-2, Cytomegalovirus & Monkeypox virus. The viral vaccine group has established extensive partnerships with many domestic and overseas academic, government and commercial collaborators for these efforts.

You research spans the areas of arboviral and Monkeypox emerging pathogens and you are an active GVN Monkey pox taskforce member. What have we learned and are there lessons from the global Monkeypox outbreak?

I think one thing we have learned during both the SARS-CoV2 and MPXV outbreaks is that pandemic preparedness is a global imperative. Both the development of vaccine and therapeutic platforms that can rapidly respond to pandemics and outbreaks, such as mRNA, and the establishment and stockpiling of effective pandemic vaccines that can be rapidly deployed are high priority objectives that we cannot afford to lose focus on.

What is the current outlook for ZV, and other arboviruses, or are there other relevant emerging pathogens you would like to discuss?

From 2014-2016, an outbreak of ZIKV in the Americas resulted in infant microcephaly cases, congenital syndromes and association of adult Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) that led the WHO to declare a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) that lasted close to a year.

Currently, the majority of reported arboviral disease in the Americas has been caused by dengue virus infection, which continues to be a global health priority pathogen. Zika virus infection has accounted for only about 1% of arboviral disease thus far in 2022, although many countries do not notify cases of ZIKV. Importantly, the virus does continue to circulate with low level transmission and a spike in cases is not unexpected in the future. The unpredictable nature of re-emergence and the ever-present possibility of these pathogens to cause epidemics and pandemics highlight the need for investment of time and resources to prepare as much as possible in advance of such outbreaks.

Overview of Moderna

Moderna, Inc. is an American pharmaceutical and biotechnology company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with a diverse clinical portfolio of vaccines and therapeutics across seven modalities, a broad intellectual property portfolio in areas including mRNA and lipid nanoparticle formulation, and an integrated manufacturing plant that allows for rapid clinical and commercial production at scale.

Moderna's mRNA platform builds on continuous advances in basic and applied mRNA science, delivery technology and manufacturing, and has allowed the development of therapeutics and vaccines for infectious diseases, immuno-oncology, rare diseases, cardiovascular diseases and auto-immune diseases. Moderna has been named a top biopharmaceutical employer by Science for the past seven years. To learn more, visit