What can people working in the field of meningitis research learn from COVID?
In some ways COVID has done some of our job for us – previously it was a struggle to get people to understand the difference between transmission and illness. For example, people harbouring the germ but being asymptomatic is something we all understand now.
It could also help unlock what we’ve been pushing for in the area of pathogen genomics. So much of what countries have been able to do, rapidly coming up with public health measures or vaccine development has been down to the availability of genomic information. For the future, it seems likely for COVID we’ll end up with vaccines that are tailored to the bug and the way it’s changed.
People can really see the difference genomic information has had: knowing the difference between Alpha, Delta, Omicron, has made a difference to understanding what their risks, are and to countries’ policies on travel, and COVID measures. That helps make the case for why increasing representation in pathogen genome sequencing for meningitis is important and why openness and having a real-time window into what is happening can be transformative for diseases that aren’t yet fixed, like meningitis.
Can you tell me how the team is changing?
Claire Wright is becoming our Head of Evidence and Policy and Liz Rodgers is becoming our Head of Research. So much of what we have achieved to date is down to what Claire and Liz have brought to their current roles at MRF; it’s great their leadership potential has been recognised. Claire has amazing insight in analysing what is going on with estimation of burden for instance - without Claire we would never have got the quantitative angle of Counting the Costs. Liz led the consensus paper that has fostered the formation of the Global Meningitis Genome Partnership. They have the grasp of the issues we’re dealing with and I know MRF is in good hands.
Can you sum up your time at MRF?
I’ve had the opportunity to meet the greatest minds in infectious diseases that are out there. We’ve managed to attract such brilliant people to MRF, so I’ve working alongside great people. It has been a huge privilege, an obsession almost, to have a role where you feel you’re making a difference in the world, one where you get positive feedback from the people you’re supporting directly.