Behind the scenes of the race to develop COVID vaccines in record time, Matthew Fenton and his colleagues at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) worked around the clock to get more than $3 billion in emergency funds from the government funneled into clinical trials as soon as possible. It’s been an unprecedented year for Fenton’s team, and for his boss, Anthony Fauci, the NIAID director.
Since the 1980s, Fenton has been helping us better understand how the human immune system works, and his research has enabled novel therapies and vaccines to treat and prevent infectious diseases. His work has unraveled new insights into how autoimmune disorders and allergic reactions are sparked, and how they can turn into chronic, life-threatening diseases.
At NIAID, where Fenton has been director of the division of extramural activities since 2012, he’s instrumental in routing federal research funds to scientists around the country, overseeing the management of NIAID grants, contracts, peer review, training, and career development, as well as Small Business Innovation Research programs. Previously, he spent 20 years doing biomedical research right here on BU’s Medical Campus. (After earning his PhD in biochemistry from BU School of Medicine in 1984, he did postdoctoral research at Massachusetts Institute of Technology before rejoining BU School of Medicine as a faculty member.)
On March 31, he’s returning to BU once again (this time virtually, of course) to give a talk to researchers about NIAID’s priorities and how they’ve changed because of COVID. He will also talk about the budget for the National Institutes of Health, COVID-related grant policies and flexibilities, NIAID’s response to COVID-including Operation Warp Speed and the COVID-19 vaccine trials-and future coronavirus initiatives that NIAID is planning. Ahead of his talk at BU, The Brink caught up with Fenton to ask about his career and what he’s experienced at NIAID during the pandemic.