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NEWS > Alumnae News > LEH Alumna Takes a Lead on COVID Vaccine

LEH Alumna Takes a Lead on COVID Vaccine

We're very proud to report that Melanie Ivarsson (Class of 1990) is Chief Development Officer at Moderna, the US based pharmaceutical company that has developed one of the first COVID-19 vaccines.

Melanie has more than 20 years experience in the pharmaceutical industry, including stints as Takeda and Pfizer where she oversaw and ran clinical operations, including running extensive trials and developing strategy.

When she first joined Moderna in January 2020, she said: “I am passionate about delivering innovative new medicines to patients and am excited by the potential of mRNA as a new class of medicines.” She can’t have known then how apposite her words would turn out to be.

Melanie told us: “I often talk about the role LEH had in my own development and career.  I did an MBA at MIT and this year was a keynote speaker for an event for female leaders. I spoke about LEH and how our school motto of ‘Hope Favours the Bold’ had been a philosophy that I have carried through my career along with the education, confidence and beliefs I gained from attending the school.”

The Moderna vaccine shows nearly 95% protection rates and was unveiled shortly after Pfizer announced that it too was in the late stages of developing a successful vaccine to protect against COVID-19. Both companies are using a highly innovative and experimental approach to designing their vaccines of injecting part of the virus’ genetic code in order to provoke an immune response.

Just before the announcement about the outcome of the Moderna trials, Melanie was one of the speakers at the 2020 GeekWire summit last month, which is a virtual event exploring the future of tech, business, science, health, policy and innovation.  One of the key topics it explored was the current pandemic and Operation Warp Speed, the US driven multibillion-dollar effort to develop vaccines for COVID-19.

Taking part in one of the panel discussions, Melanie said: “We are trying to save the world, and it’s a very exciting way to spend your day.” She went on to explain that Moderna is already looking into how the techniques that were developed for its COVID-19 vaccine can be applied to other infectious diseases such as seasonal flu.

The most hopeful development in the COVID-19 pandemic so far is how quickly the scientific community has come together to fight it.

She said: “Every day I’m really full of hope.  Just the way we have come together as an industry, the transparency we’ve shown each other as companies.  We are sharing our protocols, we’re releasing our data, we’re working so collaboratively.  I can’t tell you the companies that have reached out to me and said: ‘How can we help?’ It’s just the most extraordinary experience to be a part of.  So I am very, very hopeful, incredibly proud of what we are doing.”

The UK government has now secured seven million doses of the Moderna vaccine, which will be available in Europe as early as Spring 2021.

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