Klaus Stöhr, director of the influenza vaccine franchises, Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Klaus Stöhr moves from the WHO to industry.

Many graduate students tackle complex research problems. Rarely, however, does a PhD dissertation help to craft a capable international response to a pandemic. Klaus Stöhr's did. Having previously secured his veterinary medicine degree at the University of Leipzig in what was then East Germany, Stöhr continued for a PhD focused on developing processes and procedures necessary to detect and identify the sources of emerging diseases in good time. (See CV)

His thorough, proactive work soon landed him a position as director of a rabies vaccine development programme at the National Institute for Epidemiology and Infectious Disease Control in Animals. It would be the first of many projects capitalizing on his attention to detail and planning.

Leaders of the World Health Organization (WHO) took notice, and Stöhr accepted a job there in 1991. His initial work on rabies led to efforts focused on foodborne diseases, then antimicrobial resistance.

By 2000, he was charged with revitalizing the WHO influenza programme. Within two years, the programme reached a level of international recognition. David Heymann, the WHO's executive director for communicable diseases, credits Stöhr with not only developing the first WHO pandemic plan for influenza, but also building a cohesive network of cooperating laboratories around the world that could monitor for influenza and communicate rapidly. Indeed, Stöhr's existing network pinpointed the SARS corona virus in record time — four weeks after it first emerged in 2003. He went on to work with nations to develop global surveillance and laboratory methods, and he advised the pharmaceutical industry to help it transform the correct vaccine strains into vaccines. He has since been leading the WHO's response to avian influenza.

This year, after 15 years at the WHO, Stöhr has made what some may think is a surprising move. With offers on the table from the Harvard School of Public Health and several companies, he accepted a post as director of the influenza vaccine franchises at Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics. He will focus on the business of vaccine development — the aspect of public health he found most challenging.

“In the public-health arena, there is not a good understanding of working with 'pharma', which is why I want to understand it better,” says Stöhr.

Industry, says Heymann, is lucky to have Stöhr — whose excellent understanding of the basic science is only surpassed by his tireless efforts in public health.

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Gewin, V. Klaus Stöhr, director of the influenza vaccine franchises, Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Nature 447, 112 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1038/nj7140-112a

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