Faculty in the News


Aug 2021

Scientists Discover a Way to ‘Sweat’ Off Fat

Scientists Discover a Way to ‘Sweat’ Off Fat

In a study led by Taku Kambayashi, MD, PhD, an associate professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, and fourth-year medical student Ruth Choa, PhD, Penn Medicine researchers discovered that a cytokine known as TSLP induced significant weight loss in mice. Analysis of hair from the treated mice showed that the mechanism for the weight loss was that the animals were secreting fat-rich sebum from their skin’s oil glands.

The Hill

Back to School During COVID-19

Back to School During COVID-19

As students start to go back to schools, debates continue across the country on mask wearing. E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, joined Good Day Philadelphia to discuss the importance of wearing masks and what’s next for booster shots for immunocompromised patients.

FOX20

COVID-19 Vaccine Booster Shots: What You Need to Know

COVID-19 Vaccine Booster Shots: What You Need to Know

Though research is continuing, early data using different methodologies suggests that immunity from the vaccines wanes at about eight months or earlier as the coronavirus’ Delta variant spreads. E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, explained the research behind recommendations for booster shots, booster shots for immunocompromised patients, and why attention should still focus on getting the unvaccinated vaccinated.

WHYY

As COVID-19 Booster Shots Near, Penn Immunologist Explains Why He Hates the Term ‘Breakthrough Infection’

As COVID-19 Booster Shots Near, Penn Immunologist Explains Why He Hates the Term ‘Breakthrough Infection’

E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, spoke with Philly Voice about growing research on the effectiveness of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines and immune responses to those vaccines. Wherry’s team at Penn has closely examined the intricate details of the body’s immune response to a natural coronavirus infection and vaccination, accounting for multiple known variants. His lab studies not just the production of antibodies, but also the long-term blueprint for protection from memory B cells and T cells.

Philly Voice

Study Details Robust T-cell Response to mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines, a More Durable Source of Protection

Study Details Robust T-cell Response to mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines, a More Durable Source of Protection

Messenger-RNA (mRNA) vaccines against the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 provoke a swift and strong response by the immune system’s T cells — the heavy armor of the immune system — according to a study from researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine. Although recent studies of vaccines tend to focus on the antibody response, the T-cell response is also an important and potentially more durable source of protection — yet little has been reported so far on the T-cell response to COVID-19 vaccines. In the study, published in the journal Immunity, senior author E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute of Immunology, shared that the findings underscore the need to look at T cells, not just antibodies, to understand the vaccine response for those who have not had COVID-19 and for those who have recovered from the disease.

Medical Xpress

CRISPR Pinpoints New Leukemia Target and a ‘Pocket’ That Could Make it Druggable

CRISPR Pinpoints New Leukemia Target and a ‘Pocket’ That Could Make it Druggable

Thanks to a sophisticated CRISPR-based screening approach, Penn Medicine researchers pinpointed a new epigenetic ‘druggable pocket’ to target and potentially treat acute myeloid leukemia. Junwei Shi, PhD, an assistant professor of Cancer Biology, and Shelley L. Berger, PhD, the Daniel S. Och University Professor in the departments of Cell and Developmental Biology and Genetics and director of the Penn Epigenetics Institute, serve as authors.

Fierce Biotech

Pfizer/BioNTech Vaccine Approval: Philly Doctor Who Laid Groundwork for mRNA Vaccines Discusses Impact of Research

Pfizer/BioNTech Vaccine Approval: Philly Doctor Who Laid Groundwork for mRNA Vaccines Discusses Impact of Research

The FDA has granted full approval to the Pfizer/BioNTech SARS-CoV-2 mRNA vaccine. Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, the Roberts Family Professor of Vaccine Research, whose research laid the foundation for the vaccine, spoke about the significance of the approval.

Penn Medicine News Release • 6ABC • KYW Newsradio

Nearly All New COVID-19 Cases in Philadelphia Area Are Delta Variant, Experts Say

Nearly All New COVID-19 Cases in Philadelphia Area Are Delta Variant, Experts Say

At the Bushman Lab, the latest batch of COVID-19 samples sequenced by researchers to track SARS-CoV-2 variants in the Delaware Valley showed that almost all cases were the Delta variant. “In crowded places, indoor environments where there’s a lot of travelers, wearing masks is a good idea even if you are vaccinated,” Frederic D. Bushman, PhD, chair of Microbiology and co-director of the Penn Center for Research on Coronaviruses and Other Emerging Pathogens, told 6ABC. “I’m afraid we are going to have to adjust to the idea we’re going to be seeing new plans, new guidance going forward.” Bushman shared his lab’s sequencing results with additional outlets, including CBS3, and discussed the emerging Delta-plus and lambda variants with the Philadelphia Inquirer.

PSOM Establishes Roberts Family Professorship and Fellowship for Vaccine Research and Development

PSOM Establishes Roberts Family Professorship and Fellowship for Vaccine Research and Development

The Perelman School of Medicine recently announced establishment of the Roberts Family Professorship in Vaccine Research and the Katalin Karikó Fellowship Fund in Vaccine Development, created through a gift from the Aileen and Brian Roberts Foundation. Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, has been named the inaugural Roberts Family Professor in Vaccine Research. The foundational research at Penn between mRNA trailblazers Weissman and Katalin Karikó, PhD, an adjunct professor of Neurosurgery at Penn and a senior vice president at BioNTech, created a blueprint for the development of the historic COVID-19 mRNA vaccines. Read more about the endowed chair and fellowship,

Investigation into Skin Microbiota Reveals Mechanisms of Barrier Function and Repair

Investigation into Skin Microbiota Reveals Mechanisms of Barrier Function and Repair

Scientists have uncovered mechanisms behind some of the numerous duties of the skin. After studying mice that lacked the keratinocyte aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR), Elizabeth A. Grice, PhD, an associate professor of Dermatology, and her research team found those mice were more at risk of infection and barrier damage. Understanding the role of keratinocyte AHR to control the skin’s creation and its ability to mend may lead to better treatment for individuals who have skin disorders involving barrier dysfunction.

Read the paper in Cell Host & Microbe 

New Approach for Cell Therapy Shows Potential Against Solid Tumors with KRAS Mutations

New Approach for Cell Therapy Shows Potential Against Solid Tumors with KRAS Mutations

A new technology for cellular immunotherapy showed promising anti-tumor activity in the lab against hard-to-treat cancers driven by the once-considered “undruggable” KRAS mutation. The study successfully demonstrated that a T-cell receptor therapy could be designed to mobilize an immune system attack on mutated KRAS solid tumors and shrink them. The preclinical work has laid the groundwork for the first-in-human clinical trial now in the planning stages. The study was led by Beatriz M. Carreno, PhD, an associate professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, and a member of the Center for Cellular Immunotherapies and Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy at Penn.

Read the News Release

Clarifying the Problem of T-Cell “Exhaustion”

Clarifying the Problem of T-Cell “Exhaustion”

Researchers have illuminated an important limitation of the immune system in prolonged battles against cancers or viruses: T cells, which are among the most powerful weapons in the immune systems of humans and other vertebrates, remain substantially programmed to stay exhausted even many weeks after exposure to a virus ended. “Exhaustion apparently leaves durable ‘epigenetic scars’ in T cells that constrain their ability to support an immune response. These findings point to a need to discover how to reverse that epigenetic scarring,” said study senior author E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of the department of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics.

Read the News Release 

What Immunity Did Having COVID Give Me? Do I Need a Vaccine?

What Immunity Did Having COVID Give Me? Do I Need a Vaccine?

E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, spoke with WHYY to answer listener and reader questions about those who have had COVID-19 and their immune response. Wherry discussed the benefits of the vaccine (as it provides more robust protection), protection from variants, and more.

WHYY

Medford RNA Firm GreenLight Biosciences to Go Public in $1.2B Deal

Medford RNA Firm GreenLight Biosciences to Go Public in $1.2B Deal

The Boston Globe profiled GreenLight Biosciences, a company which works on RNA research and which is planning to go public shortly. Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, the Roberts Family Professor in Vaccine Research and a researcher who developed key mRNA vaccine technology, was mentioned in the piece as a member of the company’s advisory board.

Boston Globe

Fact Check: Vaccine Has Benefits Even for Those With Past COVID-19 Infections

Fact Check: Vaccine Has Benefits Even for Those With Past COVID-19 Infections

Despite coronavirus cases and deaths rising in parts of the U.S., many Americans still remain undecided about getting vaccinated. A survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation Vaccine Monitor found 46 percent of unvaccinated respondents said they definitely will not get vaccinated by the year’s end or at all. A key reason immunity from natural infection isn’t entirely foolproof is the highly contagious Delta variant, now accounting for more than 90 percent of cases in the U.S. “Antibodies elicited by infection do not neutralize the currently circulating coronavirus variants as efficiently as antibodies elicited by mRNA vaccination,” Scott Hensley, PhD, a professor of Microbiology, previously told USA Today.

USA Today

Here’s Why There May Be No Need for Boosters for Everyone Just Yet

Here’s Why There May Be No Need for Boosters for Everyone Just Yet

Biden administration officials say the federal government is thinking about offering boosters to people starting about eight months after they’ve been fully vaccinated. The FDA and CDC have been saying there is no clear argument yet for giving boosters to people with normal immune systems. Scott Hensley, PhD, a professor of Microbiology, said he was surprised at reports that said boosters were being considered for the general public. “If you look at hospitalizations and deaths in the United States right now, they are almost exclusively in unvaccinated individuals,” he said. “If you want to reduce global deaths and hospitalizations, well, the answer is simple. You have got to get the vaccine to people that haven’t been vaccinated before. I am afraid a rollout of boosters in United States will take away efforts from getting the vaccine to the developing world.”

CNN • 6ABC • CBS3

Penn Study Details Robust T-Cell Response to mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines—a More Durable Source of Protection

Penn Study Details Robust T-Cell Response to mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines—a More Durable Source of Protection

mRNA vaccines provoke a swift and strong response by the immune system’s T cells—the heavy armor of the immune system— against the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, according to a study led by E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Institute for Immunology.

Read More

Nearly All New COVID-19 Cases in Philadelphia Area Are Delta Variant, Experts Say

Nearly All New COVID-19 Cases in Philadelphia Area Are Delta Variant, Experts Say

At Penn’s Bushman Lab, the latest batch of COVID-19 samples sequenced by researchers to track SARS-CoV-2 variants in the Delaware Valley showed that almost all cases were the Delta variant. “In crowded places, indoor environments where there’s a lot of travelers, wearing masks is a good idea even if you are vaccinated,” said Frederic D. Bushman, PhD, the chair of Microbiology and co-director of the Penn Center for Research on Coronaviruses and Other Emerging Pathogens. “I’m afraid we are going to have to adjust to the idea we’re going to be seeing new plans, new guidance going forward.”

6ABC • NBC10 • CBS3

Delta-Plus and Lambda Variants Don’t Yet Warrant Panic for Vaccinated People, Philly Experts Say

Delta-Plus and Lambda Variants Don’t Yet Warrant Panic for Vaccinated People, Philly Experts Say

While the United States scrambles to respond to growing COVID-19 cases fueled by the Delta variant, a handful of new variants are continuing to appear, such as B.1.617.2.1 or AY.1 — dubbed “Delta-plus,” which is reported to be a souped-up version of the highly prevalent and likely more transmissible Delta variant. Frederic D. Bushman, PhD, the chair of Microbiology and co-director of the Penn Center for Research on Coronaviruses and Other Emerging Pathogens, said his team has not yet seen Delta-plus in the more than 1,500 cases from Southeastern Pennsylvania and southwestern New Jersey that it has sequenced since March, when Delta-plus was first described.

Philadelphia Inquirer

How Infectious Disease Experts Are Living Amid Rise in COVID-19 Delta and Delta Plus Cases

How Infectious Disease Experts Are Living Amid Rise in COVID-19 Delta and Delta Plus Cases

The Delta variant has caused a rise in cases across the Philadelphia region. E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, spoke about scaling back certain activities like dining indoors and gathering in large crowds. Wherry also reiterated that the vaccine makes you much more likely to be unaffected by COVID-19, no matter the variant. “We need to occasionally look at the half-full side of the glass. The vaccines are working. People are not dying,” Wherry said. “It’s somewhere between 1-in-30 and 1-in-50 among the unvaccinated. If you’re vaccinated, it’s like 1 in a million.”

NBC10


July 2021

Here’s How to Design Drug Trials to Defeat the Next Pandemic

Here’s How to Design Drug Trials to Defeat the Next Pandemic

David C. Fajgenbaum, MD, MBA, MSc, an assistant professor of Translational Medicine & Human Genetics and director of the Center for Cytokine Storm Treatment & Laboratory, led a project that seeks to review the literature on how every drug ever tried against COVID-19 has performed, and published the findings in a database. Using knowledge from this process, he provided expert opinion to CNN looking back on the drug trails that happened during the COVID-19 pandemic to look at lessons learned and best practices moving forward.

CNN

Penn Doubles Percentage of Black Participants in Cancer Clinical Trials

Penn Doubles Percentage of Black Participants in Cancer Clinical Trials

A five-year community outreach and engagement effort by the Abramson Cancer Center (ACC) to increase enrollment of Black patients into cancer clinical trials more than doubled the percentage of participants. The study was presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting in June by Robert H. Vonderheide, MD, DPhil, director of ACC.

Oncology Times

Meme Spreads Falsehood About Vaccine Transfer Through Eating Meat

Meme Spreads Falsehood About Vaccine Transfer Through Eating Meat

A new claim has emerged on Instagram suggesting that eating meat from animals vaccinated against COVID-19 could transfer the inoculation. “It just simply can’t happen,” said E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology. “It doesn’t work that way.” Referring to the messenger RNA vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer, Wherry explained that once the mRNA gets into a cell, it doesn’t propagate any further — meaning it doesn’t spread from one cell to another.

FactCheck.org

What Are COVID-19 Vaccine Deserts? Why Are They Dangerous?

What Are COVID-19 Vaccine Deserts? Why Are They Dangerous?

New, more transmissible COVID-19 strains and faltering vaccination campaigns have led to outbreaks worldwide. The U.S. is facing the same challenge and health officials have a new concern — vaccine deserts. “I think there’s a fear that there will be outbreaks in vaccine deserts and places where there’s not much vaccination,” said Frederic D. Bushman, PhD, chair of Microbiology and co-director of the Penn Center for Research on Coronaviruses and Other Emerging Pathogens.

Deseret News

There Are Few Good COVID-19 Antivirals, but That Could Be Changing

There Are Few Good COVID-19 Antivirals, but That Could Be Changing

The COVID-19 pandemic has now made new antiviral treatments a priority. But generating these therapies—especially direct-acting, orally administered drugs that inactivate viruses—is time-consuming. All this work takes place in high-level biosafety laboratories staffed by skilled workers, who are in short supply. “And then most of the compounds that work in cells ultimately fail in animal studies for lots of reasons,” said Sara Cherry, PhD, a professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, who runs a biosafety lab at the university where researchers have so far screened 20,0000 compounds—including nearly every medication approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration—for anti-SARS-CoV-2 activity in isolated lung cells.

Scientific American

Vaccines and the Delta Variant: What You Need to Know

Vaccines and the Delta Variant: What You Need to Know

COVID-19 variants are finding unvaccinated people in hot spots in the United States and around the world. Frederic D. Bushman, PhD, chair of Microbiology and co-director of the Penn Center for Research on Coronaviruses and Other Emerging Pathogens, predicts that the transmission dynamics, disparities in vaccination rates, and colder weather will lead to a surge in cases. “My guess is it will come back in the fall in vaccine ‘deserts,’” Bushman said.

Philadelphia Inquirer

Scientists Say COVID-19 Booster Shots Aren’t Needed Yet—Here’s Why

Scientists Say COVID-19 Booster Shots Aren’t Needed Yet—Here’s Why

E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, spoke with National Geographic about how long COVID-19 immunity lasts among the fully vaccinated — and what scientists want to know before they recommend giving anyone another dose. “I think what we’re going to see, over the next six months or so, a lot of studies outlining what those other components of the immune response look like in both healthy people and in some of our vulnerable populations,” Wherry said. “We really just need a lot more information on multiple layers of the immune response to vaccination.”

National Geographic

Rare ‘Breakthrough’ COVID-19 Cases Are Causing Alarm, Confusion

Rare ‘Breakthrough’ COVID-19 Cases Are Causing Alarm, Confusion

Reports of athletes, lawmakers, and others getting the coronavirus despite vaccination may sound alarming, but top health experts point to overwhelming evidence that the shots are doing exactly what they are supposed to: dramatically reducing severe illness and death. Breakthroughs tend to be mild, and even if the virus sneaks past vaccine-spurred antibodies and starts replicating in your nose or throat, secondary defenses jump into action. Usually, “the virus is stopped in its tracks within a few days,” said Scott Hensley, PhD, a professor of Microbiology.

Associated Press

Highly Contagious Delta Variant Causing Concern Across the U.S.

Highly Contagious Delta Variant Causing Concern Across the U.S.

In local TV appearances, Frederic D. Bushman, PhD, chair of Microbiology and co-director of the Penn Center for Research on Coronaviruses and Other Emerging Pathogens, discussed with CBS3 the Delta variant and his lab’s genome sequencing of variantsin the Philadelphia region. In another CBS3 interview last week, Bushman discussed a national drop in the pace of vaccination and relatively small risk for Guillain-Barré Syndrome with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and, with 6ABCconcerns about local “vaccine deserts” as the Delta variant continues to spread. “I think there’s a fear that there will be outbreaks in vaccine deserts and places where there's not much vaccination,” he said.

Vaccine Protection May Diminish Need for Boosters

Vaccine Protection May Diminish Need for Boosters

“The dam is still holding, even if there has been some splashing going on.” That’s how E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, described the current landscape of COVID-19 vaccine protection to BuzzFeed, even as concerning variants continue to rise. Wherry has shared his insights on the longevity of vaccine protection with The Atlantic and the Associated Press and commented on the potential of booster shots to 6ABC and the Washington Post. With WHYY, Wherry helped to answer audience-submitted questions about how COVID vaccines affect cancer and transplant patients, and other immunocompromised conditions.

Maayan Levy Receives Award, Funding to Study Gut-Brain Axis

Maayan Levy Receives Award, Funding to Study Gut-Brain Axis

Maayan Levy, PhD, an assistant professor of Microbiology, has been recognized with a new award from Scialog: Microbiome, Neurobiology and Disease, a Research Corporation for Science Advancementinitiative designed to advance understanding of the gut-brain axis and the roles microbiota play in neurodegenerative disorders. Levy is one of 14 early-career researchers to receive the award, and awardees are from six multidisciplinary teams of researchers from colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada. The LevyLab studies the interface between the host and its microbiome in the gastrointestinal tract, with a focus on microbiome-derived metabolites. View this and other recent awards and accolades for PSOM faculty.

How to Overcome Liver Toxicity from CD40 Immunotherapies

How to Overcome Liver Toxicity from CD40 Immunotherapies

Neutralizing TNF using approved therapeutic antibodies reduced toxicity in mice treated with a CD40 agonist in combination with chemotherapy and/or checkpoint inhibitors without impacting anti-tumor efficacy. “A new target to help improve the therapeutic potential of CD40 with combination therapies could help bring this promising approach closer to being a treatment option for some of our toughest-to-treat cancers,” said Meredith L. Stone, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher in the division of Hematology-Oncology. Gregory L. Beatty, MD, PhD, an associate professor of Hematology-Oncology, is senior author of the study.

Read the paper in JCI Insight

Coexisting with the Coronavirus

Coexisting with the Coronavirus

COVID-19 variants like Gamma are concerning some experts, and in the past few weeks the more contagious Delta variant has driven outbreaks in regions of the U.S. with low vaccination rates. But with these variants, too, immunity is gradual, not binary. The variants are, for the most part, still quite similar to the original virus. Many of the defenses created by vaccination or an initial exposure remain in place even as the virus begins to change. “Seldom does a mutation totally destroy the ability of antibodies to recognize a virus,” said Scott Hensley, PhD, a professor of Microbiology.

The New Yorker

Rare ‘Breakthrough’ COVID-19 Cases Are Causing Alarm, Confusion

Rare ‘Breakthrough’ COVID-19 Cases Are Causing Alarm, Confusion

Reports of athletes, lawmakers, and others getting the coronavirus despite vaccination may sound alarming, but top health experts point to overwhelming evidence that the shots are doing exactly what they are supposed to: dramatically reducing severe illness and death. Breakthroughs tend to be mild, and even if the virus sneaks past vaccine-spurred antibodies and starts replicating in your nose or throat, secondary defenses jump into action. Usually, “the virus is stopped in its tracks within a few days,” said Scott Hensley, PhD, a professor of Microbiology.

Associated Press

New CAR T-cell Therapy Uses Shorter Linker, Leading to More Potent Therapy for ALL

New CAR T-cell Therapy Uses Shorter Linker, Leading to More Potent Therapy for ALL

A Q&A with Marco Ruella, MD, an assistant professor of Hematology-Oncology, explores a new way to improve CAR T cell therapy for patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and how the discovery may impact the development of the therapy moving forward.

HemOnc Today

What Happens When Vaccinated People Get COVID-19?

What Happens When Vaccinated People Get COVID-19?

Laura Su, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of Rheumatology, spoke with The Atlanticabout post-vaccination COVID-19 infections. These cases are, on average, gentler and less symptomatic; faster-resolving, with less virus lingering—and, it appears, less likely to pass the pathogen on.

The Atlantic

Despite New FDA Warning About Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Vaccine, ‘Overwhelming Evidence’ Says Vaccines Are Safe

Despite New FDA Warning About Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Vaccine, ‘Overwhelming Evidence’ Says Vaccines Are Safe

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has a new warning about the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine that has been given to nearly 13 million Americans, where about 100 people developed a rare but serious autoimmune disorder that attacks the nerves called Guillain-Barré. Frederic D. Bushman, PhD, chair of Microbiology and co-director of the Penn Center for Research on Coronaviruses and Other Emerging Pathogens, discussed the Delta variant and the relatively small risk for Guillain-Barré. “It’s perfectly reasonable that people should want to know if the vaccines are safe,” he said, “and the overwhelming evidence is that they are.”

CBS3

Do I Need a COVID-19 Vaccine Booster Shot?

Do I Need a COVID-19 Vaccine Booster Shot?

Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, whose mRNA research led to the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, answered common questions about booster shots. Overall, Weissman said vaccinating those who have not yet been vaccinated is most important in order to protect the general public and limit the potential of the virus mutating into something that wouldn’t be prevented by the vaccines.

Philadelphia Inquirer

Scientists Say It’s Too Soon for COVID-19 Booster Shots

Scientists Say It’s Too Soon for COVID-19 Booster Shots

Facing the threat of a more infectious Delta variant, vaccine makers Pfizer and BioNTech believe it “may be beneficial” for people to get a third dose of their COVID-19 vaccine, but health officials and other scientists have disagreed, as current vaccines are holding up really well so far. “The dam is still holding, even if there has been some splashing going on,” said E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology.

BuzzFeed News

Booster Shot Questions

Booster Shot Questions

Pfizer and BioNTech are seeking authorization for COVID-19 booster shots. E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics, told 6ABC that research suggests the vaccine will offer protection for over a year and that government health officials are meeting with Pfizer/BioNTech in order to prepare for future needs.

6ABC

Concerns About Local “Vaccine Deserts” as COVID-19 Delta Variant Dominates

Concerns About Local “Vaccine Deserts” as COVID-19 Delta Variant Dominates

Officials and healthcare workers are stepping up their efforts to get more people vaccinated as the COVID-19 Delta variant spreads to the Philadelphia area. The Bushman Lab has now identified 13 Delta variant cases of COVID-19 in the Delaware Valley. “I think a lot of folks are worried what’s going to happen as we get more and more Delta in our area and we go into the fall and the seasonal effects kind of reverses itself,” said Frederic D. Bushman, PhD, chair of Microbiology and co-director of the Penn Center for Research on Coronaviruses and Other Emerging Pathogens. “I think there’s a fear that there will be outbreaks in vaccine deserts and places where there’s not much vaccination.”

6ABC

Penn Researcher Weighs In on Potential COVID-19 Vaccine Booster Shots

Penn Researcher Weighs In on Potential COVID-19 Vaccine Booster Shots

The CDC and FDA both say that “fully vaccinated Americans do not need a booster shot at this time.” But Pfizer announced it will ask the FDA for authorization of a third booster shot of its COVID-19 vaccine, timed for six to 12 months after the second dose. E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, said vaccine companies want to be prepared in case immunity starts to wane, but right now protection is holding. “Right now the immunologic data really supports the idea that immunity might be a couple years, even three to five years, and we just have to wait and see if that matches what we see in the real world with new infections rising in people who got vaccinated,” Wherry said.

6ABC

CDC Says Fully Vaccinated Students, Teachers Don’t Need To Wear Masks Indoors

CDC Says Fully Vaccinated Students, Teachers Don’t Need To Wear Masks Indoors

According to the CDC, when fully vaccinated students and teachers return to the classroom, they won’t need a mask. For this story, on federal guidance for school instruction and the potential of booster shots, NBC Nightly News interviewed Scott Hensley, PhD, a professor of Microbiology, for his expert opinion on the announcement from Pfizer that it will ask the FDA for authorization of a third booster shot of its COVID-19 vaccine, timed for six to 12 months after the second dose. “Across the board it is clear, even with the Delta variant, vaccine effectiveness against severe disease and hospitalization is very high after two doses,” Hensley said.

NBC News

Pennsylvania Spread of COVID-19 Delta Variant Sparks Concern, New Push for Vaccines

Pennsylvania Spread of COVID-19 Delta Variant Sparks Concern, New Push for Vaccines

The future of the pandemic may rest with the variants of the coronavirus. If the virus mutates into a variant that has the wherewithal to outwit the vaccine, some worry we could be looking at 2020 all over again. But if enough people get vaccinated, the virus has less opportunity to spread and therefore less chance to mutate, and life will likely continue on its slow slide toward normalcy. “We have to keep an eye on it,” said Frederic D. Bushman, PhD, chair of Microbiology and co-director of the Penn Center for Research on Coronaviruses and Other Emerging Pathogens. “We shouldn’t panic because the vaccine is good right now and if we can suppress, which is happening right now, in terms of the amount of people getting infected…we’re safe. If we can’t push that further down, then we have to be concerned.”

York Daily Record

Pfizer Suggests Booster Shots Will Be Needed This Year, but Government Officials Say Science Will Dictate the Timing

Pfizer Suggests Booster Shots Will Be Needed This Year, but Government Officials Say Science Will Dictate the Timing

Pfizer and BioNTech announced they plan to seek approval for a COVID-19 booster shot, predicting that people would require a vaccine boost six to 12 months after being fully immunized, but the Department of Health and Human Services has said Americans who have been fully vaccinated do not need one at this time. “My opinion right now, however, is that current vaccination seems to be largely ‘holding,’” said E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology. “But the companies seem to suggest that their continued follow up of their trial patients shows concerning levels of waning of immunity. Not much of these data from the companies are publicly available yet.” Wherry noted that independent data and assessment on this topic is needed.

Washington Post

Study Finds Greatly Reduced Immune Response to Pfizer Vaccine in MS Patients

Study Finds Greatly Reduced Immune Response to Pfizer Vaccine in MS Patients

A new study shows that multiple sclerosis patients who take ocrelizumab or fingolimod had a lower immune response to the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Amit Bar-Or, MD, FRCP, director of the Center for Neuroinflammation and Neurotherapeutics, said that additional studies are needed to capture cell-based responses and to understand the clinical significance of the antibody test.

Neurology Today

The Pandemic Crushed the Flu — What Happens When It Returns?

The Pandemic Crushed the Flu — What Happens When It Returns?

During the pandemic there was a precipitous drop in infections with influenza and other respiratory viruses — and in some parts of the world, some of these pathogens are nowhere to be found. “It’s an unprecedented time in flu history,” said Scott Hensley, PhD, a professor of Microbiology. “But influenza viruses have this uncanny ability to change and adapt, and I would expect that once life sort of gets back to normal, we’ll see flu get back to normal as well.”

The Scientist

COVID-19 Vaccine-Generated Spike Protein Is Safe, Contrary to Viral Claims

COVID-19 Vaccine-Generated Spike Protein Is Safe, Contrary to Viral Claims

Hundreds of millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered safely in the United States in the last six months. There is no evidence to indicate that the spike proteins generated by human cells following vaccination are a toxin or that they circulate in the body and damage tissues, contrary to what a Canadian virus immunologist recently claimed. “I am quite confident that the spike protein is not a toxin,” said Susan Weiss, PhD, a professor of Microbiology and co-director of the Penn Center for Research on Coronaviruses and Other Emerging Pathogens. “Furthermore if vaccine induced spike were pathogenic, wouldn’t we see a lot of illness following vaccination?”

FactCheck.org

COVID-19 Conspiracy Theories Deter Some from Getting Vaccine

COVID-19 Conspiracy Theories Deter Some from Getting Vaccine

Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, the Roberts Family Professor in Vaccine Research, spoke with Global News about the fears over vaccine safety and efficacy. Weissman spoke about the way that scientists came together quickly to find a vaccine for COVID-19 by using mRNA research that had been collected over decades. “The reason why it was so fast, is with the RNA you only need a sequence, you don’t have to make the virus, you don’t have the protein, you just need the sequence,” said Weissman. “And we knew from 20 years of coronavirus work that it was the spike protein that mattered.”

Global News

Vaccines Give These Philadelphia Researchers Hope, but the COVID-19 Variants Make Them Cautious of Letting Their Guard Down

Vaccines Give These Philadelphia Researchers Hope, but the COVID-19 Variants Make Them Cautious of Letting Their Guard Down

In this Philadelphia Inquirer expert opinion piece on the state of COVID-19 and variants, the writers referenced the web page, Penn Medicine Surveillance Sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 Variants, built and maintained by Frederic D. Bushman, PhD, chair of Microbiology and co-director of the Penn Center for Research on Coronaviruses and Other Emerging Pathogens, and the Bushman Lab.

Philadelphia Inquirer


June 2021

Next-Generation COVID-19 Vaccines to be Cheaper, Easier, More Protective

Next-Generation COVID-19 Vaccines to be Cheaper, Easier, More Protective

The COVID-19 vaccines are among the best ever created. They’re safe and more than 90 percent effective at preventing disease, and even more so at blocking serious illness and death. It is still yet to be seen how long immunity lasts and whether people will need a booster. Scott Hensley, PhD, a professor of Microbiology, said the future will depend, in part, on how much the virus changes over time.

USA Today

‘It’s Here’: Highly Contagious Delta Variant Causing Fears Of Another COVID-19 Outbreak In U.S.

‘It’s Here’: Highly Contagious Delta Variant Causing Fears Of Another COVID-19 Outbreak In U.S.

The more contagious COVID-19 Delta variant has doubled in the United States in just the past two weeks. It’s a special danger to people who aren’t vaccinated, and that impacts large segments of certain populations in the Philadelphia region. “They’re very vulnerable,” said Frederic D. Bushman, PhD, chair of Microbiology and co-director of the Penn Center for Research on Coronaviruses and Other Emerging Pathogens. “We’ve been sequencing viral gene variants in the Delaware Valley, in our area. We have seen the Delta variant. It’s around. It’s here.”

CBS3

COVID-19 Vaccine Booster Shots Are Probably Inevitable

COVID-19 Vaccine Booster Shots Are Probably Inevitable

While many experts say that the need for COVID-19 vaccine boosters is looking more and more likely, no one knows for sure when they’ll arrive, what the best ones will look like, or how often they’ll be needed. However, there are hints about the longevity of vaccine protection. E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, spoke with The Atlantic about the vaccine and how long antibody levels might last.

The Atlantic • The Week

How COVID-19 Vaccines Work as Young Adults in Quebec Remain Hesitant to Get Jab

How COVID-19 Vaccines Work as Young Adults in Quebec Remain Hesitant to Get Jab

Global News reported that young Canadians are slower to sign up for COVID-19 vaccinations. Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, the Roberts Family Professor of Vaccine Research whose foundational research set the stage for the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, explained the history of mRNA vaccines and all the investigation that has been done on their safety. “What people don’t realize is it isn’t a brand-new technology,” said Weissman.

Global News

A Disease in Dogs, Similar to MS, Opens New Avenues for Study

A Disease in Dogs, Similar to MS, Opens New Avenues for Study

The canine disease granulomatous meningoencephalomyelitis (GME), the most common neuroinflammatory disease that affects dogs, shares key features of its pathology and immunology with multiple sclerosis (MS), according to a new study from Penn’s School of Veterinary Medicine. Amit Bar-Or, MD, director of the Center for Neuroinflammation and Neurotherapeutics, discussed the new avenues of research these similarities may present.

Phys Org

Is One Vaccine Dose Enough If You’ve Had COVID-19? What the Science Says

Is One Vaccine Dose Enough If You’ve Had COVID-19? What the Science Says

Recent research shows that a previous coronavirus infection plus one dose of vaccine provides powerful protection — but concerns linger. E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, was quoted.

Nature

COVID-19 Vaccines and Cancer, Organ Transplants, Autoimmune Conditions

COVID-19 Vaccines and Cancer, Organ Transplants, Autoimmune Conditions

E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, answered WHYY listener and reader questions about the COVID-19 vaccine’s effectiveness among those who are immunocompromised. “Data is emerging very quickly. We’re seeing reports almost daily as we move forward. So, I would stay tuned. I would stay in touch with your physician,” Wherry said.

WHYY

The Coronavirus Delta Variant Is in the Philadelphia Area, Posing a Threat to Unvaccinated People

The Coronavirus Delta Variant Is in the Philadelphia Area, Posing a Threat to Unvaccinated People

In the greater Philadelphia area — where vaccination has driven a steep decline in COVID-19 cases since the January peak — genetic sequencing suggests new infections are “all variants now,” said Frederic D. Bushman, PhD, chair of Microbiology and co-director of the Penn Center for Research on Coronaviruses and Other Emerging Pathogens. “We’re just starting to see the Delta strain,” he said. “So it’s definitely here. I have to assume it’s widely seeded.”

Philadelphia Inquirer

COVID-19 Already In U.S. Since December 2019, Mounting Evidence Suggest

COVID-19 Already In U.S. Since December 2019, Mounting Evidence Suggest

A new analysis of blood samples taken in early 2020 suggests that COVID-19 was already circulating in the United States as early as December 2019, weeks before the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the first case in the country. Scott Hensley, PhD, a professor of Microbiology, said the small number of samples that tested positive in the study may make it difficult to determine whether they were true COVID-19 infections or errors.

International Business Times

A Third Dose of COVID Vaccine May Help Protect Immunocompromised Patients

A Third Dose of COVID Vaccine May Help Protect Immunocompromised Patients

A small study found that some organ transplant patients saw a boost in antibody levels after receiving a third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Even though only one third of patients who hadn’t responded to two doses went on to develop antibodies, E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, who was not involved with the research, expressed optimism. “One third is not zero, so it does offer some promise for people that are on immunosuppressant drugs,” Wherry said. However, he cautioned that it’s still unclear what the findings mean for real world protection for patients who are immunosuppressed.

NBC News

Seven People in Five States May Have Been Infected With COVID-19 Earlier Than We Thought

Seven People in Five States May Have Been Infected With COVID-19 Earlier Than We Thought

A new study has confirmed that seven people in five states may have been infected long before the first official diagnosed case in their states. Some experts see the study as slightly flawed because the study doesn’t factor in the idea that the antibodies were developed from the common cold and not the novel coronavirus. “This is an interesting paper because it raises the idea that everyone thinks is true, that there were infections that were going undiagnosed,” Scott Hensley, PhD, a professor of Microbiology, said in an interview with the New York Times.

Deseret News

The COVID-19 Vaccine Doesn’t Fully Protect People Like Me Who Are Immuno-compromised. Science Is Working on it.

The COVID-19 Vaccine Doesn’t Fully Protect People Like Me Who Are Immuno-compromised. Science Is Working on it.

A story about the uncertainty around the protection immuno-compromised cancer patients receive from the COVID-19 vaccine featured the writer’s oncologist Noelle Frey, MD, an associate professor of Hematology-Oncology. Alexander Huang, MD, an assistant professor of Hematology-Oncology, who recently published a study in Nature Medicine exploring how the immune system compensates when one set of immune cells are down, and Emily Blumberg, MD, a professor of Medicine and director of Transplant Infectious Diseases, were also featured.
Philadelphia Inquirer

COVID-19 Vaccines Are Better Than We Ever Expected

COVID-19 Vaccines Are Better Than We Ever Expected

E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, was quoted discussing mRNA vaccines, which have emerged as the big winners in the pandemic — topping 90 percent effectiveness. “These will be among the most efficacious vaccines that we have. Period,” said Wherry.

Buzzfeed

Vaccine Protection May Diminish Need for Yearly Boosters

Vaccine Protection May Diminish Need for Yearly Boosters

Scientists have found clues that the world’s leading COVID-19 vaccines offer lasting protection that could diminish the need for frequent booster shots, but they caution that more research is needed and that virus mutations are still a wild card. Critical studies are underway, and evidence is mounting that immunity from the mRNA vaccines does not depend exclusively on antibodies that dwindle over time. “I’m pretty optimistic. I wouldn’t rule out the need for boosters, but the immune response so far looks actually quite impressive,” said E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology.

Associated Press

Scientists Report Earliest Known Coronavirus Infections in Five U.S. States

Scientists Report Earliest Known Coronavirus Infections in Five U.S. States

Scientists are examining a new study, and its flaws, suggesting that the COVID-19 virus may have been circulating in the United States weeks before the first confirmed case in January. But the small number of samples that tested positive made it difficult to be sure that they were true cases of infection and not just a methodological error. “It’s hard to know what is a real signal and what isn’t,” said Scott Hensley, PhD, a professor of Microbiology.

New York Times

We’ll Probably Need Booster Shots for COVID-19. But When? And Which Ones?

We’ll Probably Need Booster Shots for COVID-19. But When? And Which Ones?

The National Institutes of Health recently announced that it has begun a new clinical trial of people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 — with any authorized vaccine — to see whether a booster of the Moderna shot will increase their antibodies and prolong protection against getting infected with the virus. Scott Hensley, PhD, a professor of Microbiology, told the New York Times it’s wise to prepare for the possibility that boosters will be needed. But he hopes that they don’t become a distraction from the pressing need to get first doses to billions of people across the world. Hensley was also quoted in the New York Post and WebMD, among other outlets, about duration of immunity.

Drug Blocks SARS-CoV-2 Infection in Mice

Drug Blocks SARS-CoV-2 Infection in Mice

The drug diABZI — which activates the body’s innate immune response — was highly effective in preventing severe COVID-19 in mice that were infected with SARS-CoV-2, according to a team led by Sara Cherry, PhD, a professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and scientific director of the High-Throughput Screening (HTS) Core. The findings suggest that diABZI could also treat other respiratory coronaviruses.

Read the News Release →

Read the paper in Science Immunology →

Black Patients Needed in Cancer Clinical Trials

Black Patients Needed in Cancer Clinical Trials

A story on the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s focus on increasing the number of Black participants in cancer clinical trials included the Abramson Cancer Center’s (ACC) efforts to boost participation. Over five years, the ACC more than doubled its number of Black patients into trials through outreach and community engagement. “Although our outcomes are promising, there remains a long way to go to ensure full access to clinical trials in this country,” said Robert H. Vonderheide, MD, DPhil, director of the ACC. “Our results show a roadmap that we and other centers can continue to pursue.”

Healthline

Doctors Discuss Reasons Why People Aren’t Getting the COVID-19 Vaccine

Doctors Discuss Reasons Why People Aren’t Getting the COVID-19 Vaccine

E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, joined “Good Day Philadelphia” to discuss some of the reasons why people say they aren’t getting the COVID-19 vaccine, and provide some medical insight into safety and effectiveness of the shots.

FOX29

CD8 T Cells May Fight COVID-19 Infection in Hematological Cancer When B Cells, Antibodies Wane

CD8 T Cells May Fight COVID-19 Infection in Hematological Cancer When B Cells, Antibodies Wane

In patients with blood cancers who contract COVID-19, CD8 T cells may fight the infection when B cells and antibodies are depleted by drug treatment, according to new research in Nature Medicine led by Alexander C. Huang, MD, an assistant professor of Hematology-Oncology. “We were encouraged to see that there were many patients who recovered, despite having no B cells or antibody responses,” he said.

Reuters Health

The mRNA Vaccine Revolution Is Just Beginning

The mRNA Vaccine Revolution Is Just Beginning

Wired UK dove into the stories and the science behind mRNA technology. Katalin Kariko, PhD, adjunct professor, and Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, professor of Infectious Diseases, who together made mRNA discoveries that built a foundation for the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines, are highlighted. The article also discusses Norbert Pardi, PhD, research professor of Infectious Diseases, who along with Weissman, is researching an mRNA flu vaccine.

Wired UK

Immune System Workaround Helps Blood Cancer Patients With COVID-19

Immune System Workaround Helps Blood Cancer Patients With COVID-19

In blood cancer patients who lack antibody-producing cells, other immune cells can compensate to help fight COVID-19, according to a study in Nature Medicine led by Alexander C. Huang, MD, an assistant professor of Hematology-Oncology and Penn’s Institute of Immunology. Erin Bange, MD, a fellow in the division of Hematology-Oncology and Penn Center for Cancer Care Innovation, served as the study's first author.

Reuters • The Weather Channel

We’ll Probably Need Booster Shots for COVID-19. But When? And Which Ones?

We’ll Probably Need Booster Shots for COVID-19. But When? And Which Ones?

The National Institutes of Health recently announced that it has begun a new clinical trial of people fully vaccinated — with any authorized vaccine — to see whether a booster of the Moderna shot will increase their antibodies and prolong protection against getting infected with the virus. Scott Hensley, PhD, a professor of Microbiology, said it’s wise to prepare for the possibility that boosters will be needed. But he hopes that they don't become a distraction from the pressing need to get first doses to billions of people across the world. 

New York Times

How a Philadelphia Hospital Increased Patient Diversity in Clinical Trials

How a Philadelphia Hospital Increased Patient Diversity in Clinical Trials

A five-year community outreach and engagement effort by the Abramson Cancer Center (ACC) more than doubled the percentage of Black patients into cancer clinical trials, researchers reported at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting. Robert H. Vonderheide, MD, DPhil, director of the ACC, presented the findings. “The equitable representation of Black patients in cancer clinical trials increases their access to new cancer therapies and the generalizability of the research results,” said co-author Carmen Guerra, MD, an associate professor and vice chair of Diversity and Inclusion in the department of Medicine.

STAT News • ASCO Post • AJMC.com

New Drug May Bypass SARS-CoV-2 Blockade of Innate Immune Response

New Drug May Bypass SARS-CoV-2 Blockade of Innate Immune Response

A new study led by Sara Cherry, PhD, a professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, found that the drug diABZI — which activates the body’s innate immune response — was highly effective in preventing severe COVID-19 in mice that were infected with SARS-CoV-2. The findings, published in Science Immunology, suggest that diABZI could also treat other respiratory coronaviruses.

Forbes • CTV Network • Contagion Live • Consumer Affairs

Universal Coronavirus Vaccine Interest Grows Among Researchers

Universal Coronavirus Vaccine Interest Grows Among Researchers

Developing universal vaccines — vaccines that could protect against various types of the same virus — has been a goal for years. Enthusiasm has grown due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the knowledge gained from COVID research. Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, a professor of Infectious Diseases, whose research laid the groundwork for mRNA COVID vaccines, told Axios that a universal mRNA coronavirus vaccine may be on the horizon.

Axios

Now Proven Against Coronavirus, mRNA Can Do So Much More

Now Proven Against Coronavirus, mRNA Can Do So Much More

CNN explored the past and future of mRNA vaccines and discussed the research of Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, a professor of Infectious Diseases, and Katalin Kariko, PhD, an adjunct associate professor, whose groundbreaking research together set the stage for mRNA COVID-19 vaccines. “In my lab, we have been working on vaccines for years,” Weissman said. “We have five Phase 1 clinical trials that we started before COVID hit. They were delayed because of the pandemic. The plan is to complete them next year.”

CNN

Body’s Second Line of Defense May Protect Against Coronavirus Variants

Body’s Second Line of Defense May Protect Against Coronavirus Variants

Cancer patients with impaired antibody responses were more likely to survive COVID-19 if they had stronger T cell responses, according to a recent study. “The bottom line is, yes, there is immunological evidence that [vaccines] are priming more than just neutralizing antibodies and that these other parts of the immune response are important,” said E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology.

Voice of America

How Do COVID-19 Vaccines Affect Immunocompromised People?

How Do COVID-19 Vaccines Affect Immunocompromised People?

E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, spoke with WHYY about the COVID-19 vaccine for those who are immunocompromised. “There’s some data from patients who have contracted COVID-19 that indicate that T cells do prevent or limit disease severity,” said Wherry. While some immunocompromised patients “won’t have perfect protection,” there is some hope that “maybe they won’t get sick if they get infected.”

WHYY

After COVID-19 Successes, Researchers Push to Develop mRNA Vaccines for Other Diseases

After COVID-19 Successes, Researchers Push to Develop mRNA Vaccines for Other Diseases

Infectious disease researchers are working to create a future in which mRNA may be a common way to prevent numerous viruses like coronaviruses, flu, and even sexually-transmitted diseases. The historic work of Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, a professor of Infectious Diseases, whose foundational research led to the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, was highlighted along with his collaboration with Harvey Friedman, MD, a professor of Infectious Diseases. Together, they are studying an mRNA vaccine designed to prevent HSV.

Nature Medicine

COVID-19 Immunity Could Last for Years, Studies Say

COVID-19 Immunity Could Last for Years, Studies Say

Immunity to the novel coronavirus could last for a year — and possibly longer — particularly after COVID-19 vaccination, according to two recent studies. “The papers are consistent with the growing body of literature that suggests that immunity elicited by infection and vaccination for SARS-CoV-2 appears to be long-lived,” said Scott Hensley, PhD, a professor of Microbiology.

WebMD • New York Post • Irish Mirror • Washington Examiner • Best Life


May 2021

Mask Mandate Relaxed

Mask Mandate Relaxed

E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, spoke about the new mask guidelines from the CDC. He notes we still have to be vigilant: “This is where we are today. As we see how things evolve under these new guidelines, we may be able to go further, or we may have to actually dial it back a little bit.”

NBC10

As COVID-19 Dissipates in U.S., Colds and Flu May Return With a Vengeance

As COVID-19 Dissipates in U.S., Colds and Flu May Return With a Vengeance

Some experts fear we’re in for a nasty cold and flu season or two, pointing to a combination of factors that could make for a rough re-entry to the mixed microbes world. “When we see this real narrowing of the genetic diversity of flu, I think that’s indicative of a narrowing to only those strains that are super highly transmissible or those that at least have a fitness advantage, whether it’s an increase in transmissibility or an increase in immune escape,” said Scott Hensley, PhD, a professor of Microbiology. “Whatever it is, most of the viral lineages have been whittled out and what we’re left with I’m afraid might be the most fit strain.”

STAT News

Immunity to the Coronavirus May Persist for Years, Scientists Find

Immunity to the Coronavirus May Persist for Years, Scientists Find

According to two new studies, immunity to the coronavirus lasts at least a year — possibly a lifetime — and improves over time, especially after vaccination. “The papers are consistent with the growing body of literature that suggests that immunity elicited by infection and vaccination for SARS-CoV-2 appears to be long-lived,” said Scott Hensley, PhD, a professor of Microbiology.

New York Times • Seeking Alpha

Inspiring America: The Scientists Who Paved the Way for the COVID-19 Vaccine

Inspiring America: The Scientists Who Paved the Way for the COVID-19 Vaccine

Calling them “true heroes of science,” NBC Nightly News profiled Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, a professor of Infectious Diseases, and Katalin Kariko, PhD, an adjunct associate professor. The two told the story of their partnership and the groundbreaking 2005 study that set the stage for a successful COVID-19 mRNA vaccine.

NBC News

Why Vaccine Side Effects Really Happen

Why Vaccine Side Effects Really Happen

Chills, headache, and fatigue after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine are perfectly normal. But reactions can vary wildly, and they don’t reflect how your immune system would respond to a COVID-19 infection. E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, spoke with National Geographic about why reactions to vaccines differ and the difference between side effects and adverse events.

National Geographic

Experts Warn of Possible Dangerous Flu Season

Experts Warn of Possible Dangerous Flu Season

After a year of hardly any seasonal flu cases, doctors are urging action ahead of what may be a dangerous season. NBC Nightly News interviewed Scott Hensley, PhD, a professor of Microbiology, who explained why more children may be susceptible this year, and how a flu shot will be a good defense against serious illness.

NBC News • Science Times

COVID-19 Was Just the Start. Next We’ll Make a Vaccine for Cancer

COVID-19 Was Just the Start. Next We’ll Make a Vaccine for Cancer

Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, a professor of Infectious Diseases whose foundational research with colleague Katalin Kariko, PhD, on mRNA led to Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna’s COVID-19 mRNA vaccines, spoke to The Telegraph about his strategy to tackle the future of COVID-19 and other coronaviruses. His lab is developing a vaccine to prevent various coronaviruses at once, and this vaccine would eliminate a need for vaccines to be altered to cover coronavirus mutations.

The Telegraph

I’ve Already Had COVID-19. Do I Need One Vaccine Shot or Two?

I’ve Already Had COVID-19. Do I Need One Vaccine Shot or Two?

A recent study led by E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, found that people who were never infected with COVID-19 did not have a full immune response until after receiving the second dose. Wherry explained the study findings, noting that it’s very important that people who have never had COVID-19 get both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, to get optimal high levels of antibodies. The Penn study did not show any evidence that a second dose could cause harm among those who have previously had COVID-19.

WHYY

Fact-Checking Anti-Vaccine Misinformation

Fact-Checking Anti-Vaccine Misinformation

Recent research from the Penn Institute of Immunology suggests vaccine side effects such as a sore arm, fever, or muscle aches could be a sign of a positive immune response and should not be a cause for concern. E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, noted that side effects “are not necessarily a bad thing — they may actually be an indicator of an even better immune response.”

CNN

Gene Therapy Is Giving Us Incredible New Tools to Fight Disease

Gene Therapy Is Giving Us Incredible New Tools to Fight Disease

A story in Philadelphia magazine’s “Top Doctors” issue on the latest developments in gene therapy featured David Porter, MD, the Jodi Fisher Horowitz Professor in Leukemia Care Excellence and director of Cell Therapy and Transplantation, Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, a professor of Infectious Diseases, and Katalin Kariko, PhD, an adjunct associate professor who is now a senior vice president at BioNTech. A leukemia patient of Porter’s who underwent CAR T cell therapy was also featured.

Philadelphia magazine

Pioneering mRNA Researcher Breaks Down Coronavirus Vaccines

Pioneering mRNA Researcher Breaks Down Coronavirus Vaccines

Ensuring access to COVID-19 vaccines remains critical for people in middle-to-low-income countries. Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, a professor of Infectious Diseases, explained his work with the Thai government to establish mRNA vaccine facilities dedicated to manufacturing vaccines for the people of Thailand and surrounding middle-to-low-income countries. Positioning facilities around the world is a way to provide much-needed COVID-19 vaccines and stop further spread of the virus, Weissman said.

NPR’s Here & Now

How Our Bodies Respond to Viruses

How Our Bodies Respond to Viruses

Sara Cherry, PhD, a professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, was a guest on the Pint-Sized Science podcast to discuss what viruses are, how they infiltrate our bodies, and how her lab is working on finding new drug candidates to battle SARS-CoV-2.

Pint-Sized Science

Debunking COVID-19 Conspiracy Theories That Could Hinder Vaccine Efforts

Debunking COVID-19 Conspiracy Theories That Could Hinder Vaccine Efforts

E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, joined NBC10 to debunk three COVID-19 conspiracy theories that have some citizens hesitant about getting a coronavirus vaccine dose. For example, some falsely believe the mRNA vaccines could alter your genome or track you. “Just about every time you eat a meal, you’re ingesting RNA. This is not something that is really that unusual,” Wherry said.

NBC10

COVID-19 Variants Becoming More Common Across Delaware Valley

COVID-19 Variants Becoming More Common Across Delaware Valley

6ABC interviewed Frederic Bushman, PhD, chair of Microbiology and co-director of the Penn Center for Research on Coronaviruses and Other Emerging Pathogens, for his expert take on the current status of COVID-19 variants, and his team’s work to sequence them and post their results to a new, accessible web page. “It’s worrisome that we are seeing variants appear in greater frequency. The B.1.1.7, U.K. derived variant, New York-derived variant, Brazil-derived variant are all increasing in proportion of the total,” Bushman said.

6ABC

Do People Who Have Had COVID-19 Need a Second Vaccine Shot?

Do People Who Have Had COVID-19 Need a Second Vaccine Shot?

A recent study suggests that there is a strong boost to the immunity of everyone who receives the first dose of an mRNA vaccine, including those who have previously had a SARS-CoV-2 infection. However, only people who have never had a SARS-CoV-2 infection appeared to benefit from the second dose. The research team, led by E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, tracked not only antibody responses to vaccination but also the creation of memory B cells, which provide longer lasting immunity against infection.

Medical News Today

Stunning Science: COVID-19 Vaccines’ Life-saving Breakthrough

Stunning Science: COVID-19 Vaccines’ Life-saving Breakthrough

Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, a professor of Infectious Diseases and an mRNA researcher, was honored by “Face the Nation” on CBS News for his groundbreaking work with colleague Katalin Kariko, PhD, an adjunct associate professor, that paved the way for COVID-19 mRNA vaccines. The pair's research and “life’s work” were presented as part of the “winding chain of effort...which has led to 146 million Americans being vaccinated” against COVID-19, the show said.

CBS News


April 2021

Does Smell Therapy for People Who Had COVID-19 Really Work?

Does Smell Therapy for People Who Had COVID-19 Really Work?

Richard Doty, PhD, director of Penn’s Smell and Taste Center, was quoted in a story about smell therapy to regain loss, such as sniffing spices. The tactics, however, aren’t supported with enough research. While smell training “has caught the imagination of laypeople as well as scientists,” he said, the evidence is “pretty weak that it has any effect.”

Slate

No COVID-19 Vaccine Side Effects? Why It’s Fine to Feel Fine

No COVID-19 Vaccine Side Effects? Why It’s Fine to Feel Fine

While side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine show your immune system is responding to the vaccine in a way that will protect against disease, evidence from clinical trials showed that people with few or no symptoms were also protected. However, there is some evidence of stronger immune response in those who get sick when vaccinated. A study led by E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, showed that people who reported side effects may have had somewhat higher levels of antibodies.

NPR

Local Experts Talk About Their Ongoing Fight Against COVID-19

Local Experts Talk About Their Ongoing Fight Against COVID-19

Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, a professor of Infectious Diseases, joined a virtual panel of Philadelphia scientists to speak about the ways they individually are working to protect our community and the world from COVID-19. Weissman, whose groundbreaking research paved the way for Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna’s mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, explained that while COVID-19 is new, the technology behind the vaccines has been studied for decades.

Philadelphia Business Journal

Vaccines Benefit Those Who Have Had COVID-19, Contrary to Viral Posts

Vaccines Benefit Those Who Have Had COVID-19, Contrary to Viral Posts

The authorized COVID-19 vaccines have been found to be safe and effective in clinical trials and in real-world conditions, and there is no evidence showing that vaccinating those with previous SARS-CoV-2 could be unsafe. On the contrary, growing evidence shows one dose of the vaccine benefits individuals who’ve recovered from the infection, boosting their immune response. “Our study and several other studies show that there is a benefit, immunologically … in people who were previously infected,” said E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology.

FactCheck.org • Pharmacy Times

mRNA Vaccines Can Adapt to Variants Faster than Others

mRNA Vaccines Can Adapt to Variants Faster than Others

The characteristics of mRNA vaccines make them ideal tools to prevent various other infectious maladies. Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, a professor of Infectious Diseases whose discoveries paved the way for mRNA vaccines, spoke to the Hindustan Times about the cost of storing mRNA vaccines, the scientific community’s interest in investing in mRNA technology, and how we’ll likely see mRNA vaccines being used to prevent disease.

The Hindustan Times • The Hindustan Times (2)

Your Risks for Post-Vaccine Activities

Your Risks for Post-Vaccine Activities

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution scores social activities by the risk to those who have already been vaccinated. Meenakshi Bewtra, MD, PhD, MPH, an assistant professor of Epidemiology and Gastroenterology, weighed in, but urged caution as more COVID-19 variants are easier to transmit.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Backs Five New Cancer Drug Projects With Up to $50M

Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Backs Five New Cancer Drug Projects With Up to $50M

A grant from the the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society will help fund the macrophage CAR T cell therapy work being conducted in collaboration with Carisma Therapeutics, a cell therapy company co-founded by Saar Gill, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of Hematology-Oncology.

Endpoints News

Penn Gets $7 Million Grant to Study Flu Virus

Penn Gets $7 Million Grant to Study Flu Virus

After COVID-19, we may think the flu is not a big problem, but it could be this coming flu season, according to Scott Hensley, PhD, a professor of Microbiology. “We are just as susceptible to a flu pandemic strain today as we were a year ago,” he said, explaining that Penn’s role as a newly chosen Center of Excellence for Influenza Research and Response will be to study flu risk, pandemic plans, and the evolution of influenza.

KYW Newsradio (1) • KYW Newsradio (2)

Dr. Wherry Discusses Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Resumption

Dr. Wherry Discusses Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Resumption

E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, joined Good Day Philadelphia to discuss the latest developments with the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, the importance of getting a second dose if you received an mRNA vaccine, and a recent COVID-19 outbreak at a Montgomery County School.

FOX29

Blood Banks Phase Out Collecting Convalescent Plasma

Blood Banks Phase Out Collecting Convalescent Plasma

In the early months of the pandemic, blood donation centers around the country rushed to collect convalescent plasma as it was seen as a potential treatment for COVID-19. Now, many are moving away from plasma collection, and even doing away with antibody testing to find volunteers who want to donate. David C. Fajgenbaum, MD, MBA, MSc, an assistant professor of Translational Medicine & Human Genetics and director of the Center for Cytokine Storm Treatment & Laboratory, is leading a project that seeks to review how every drug tried against COVID has performed. After analyzing nine randomized clinical trials, his research team graded convalescent plasma a “D.”

CNN

Here’s How Scientists Are Designing Vaccines That Can Ditch the Fridge

Here’s How Scientists Are Designing Vaccines That Can Ditch the Fridge

Keeping mRNA COVID-19 vaccines cold remains an obstacle for scientists looking to provide vaccine access to people in remote areas. Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, a professor of Infectious Diseases, spoke about the possibility of freeze drying vaccines in order to keep them from expiring and other ways vaccines can be developed to last longer or require less-complicated storage.

Science

No Evidence that Pfizer or Moderna Vaccines Are Unsafe During Pregnancy, a Preliminary Study Says.

No Evidence that Pfizer or Moderna Vaccines Are Unsafe During Pregnancy, a Preliminary Study Says.

The New York Times spoke to Michal Elovitz, MD, director of the Maternal and Child Health Research Center in Obstetrics and Gynecology, about new preliminary research suggesting that the COVID-19 vaccine does not negatively affect pregnant individuals. Elovitz, who was not part of the research team, said, “It is very reassuring that there were no reported acute events in pregnant individuals (over the course of the study).”

New York Times

How Long Will Immunity From the COVID-19 Vaccines Last?

Penn Gets $7 Million Grant to Study Flu Virus

Bustle examined how long the COVID-19 vaccines might last. Pfizer’s vaccine shows strong antibodies for at least six months, while an ongoing study of Moderna’s vaccine shows that antibodies persist for at least six months after the second dose. “We only have six months of data,” Scott Hensley, PhD, a professor of Microbiology, told the Wall Street Journal in April 2021. “Six months from now it’s likely we’ll learn we have one year of protection.”

Bustle

Leveraging the Microbiome to Enhance Cancer Treatment

Leveraging the Microbiome to Enhance Cancer Treatment

Research led by Andrea Facciabene, PhD, a research associate professor of Radiation Oncology and Obstetrics/Gynecology, suggested certain gut bacteria can reduce the efficacy of radiation therapy against cancers, but targeting those bacteria with the drug vancomycin can reverse this effect. Facciabene presented the findings at the AACR Virtual Special Conference: Radiation Science and Medicine.

MD Edge

Penn Medicine’s Carl June Wins Sanford Lorraine Cross Award

Penn Medicine’s Carl June Wins Sanford Lorraine Cross Award

Carl June, MD, the Richard W. Vague Professor in Immunotherapy in the department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and director of the Center for Cellular Immunotherapies, received the $1 million Sanford Lorraine Cross Award for his groundbreaking work in developing CAR T cell therapy. Two months ago, June was also named a 2021 Dan David Prize Laureate. “I am honored and humbled to receive these prizes on behalf of my team at Penn,” he said.

Philadelphia magazine

Researchers Look at Nine Drugs that Could Treat COVID-19

Researchers Look at Nine Drugs that Could Treat COVID-19

A team of Penn Medicine researchers identified nine potential new COVID-19 treatments, including three that are already approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treating other diseases. Sara Cherry, PhD, a professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, was interviewed on KCBS Radio (San Francisco) about the three drugs, which could be rapidly tested in human volunteers and COVID-19 patients: the transplant-rejection drug cyclosporine, the cancer drug dacomitinib, and the antibiotic salinomycin.

KCBS Radio

Carl June Receives $1 Million Sanford Lorraine Cross Award

Carl June Receives $1 Million Sanford Lorraine Cross Award

World-renowned cancer cell therapy pioneer Carl June, the Richard W. Vague Professor in Immunotherapy in the department of pathology and laboratory medicine in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and director of the Center for Cellular Immunotherapies at Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center, received the $1 million Sanford Lorraine Cross Award for his groundbreaking work in developing chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapy.

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The Powerful Technology Behind the Pfizer and Moderna Vaccines

The Powerful Technology Behind the Pfizer and Moderna Vaccines

Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, a professor of Infectious Diseases and one of the scientists behind mRNA vaccine technology used by BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna for their COVID-19 vaccines, explained to PBS Newshour that a benefit of mRNA vaccines is a plug-and-play quality. The vaccines can be easily adapted to protect against other viruses.

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New Influenza-Focused Center of Excellence at Penn Medicine

New Influenza-Focused Center of Excellence at Penn Medicine

Scott Hensley, PhD, a professor of Microbiology, will serve as program director of Penn’s Center of Excellence for Influenza Research and Response (CEIRR), funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). Penn Medicine will be one of five sites across the country to operate a CEIRR, with the goal of better understanding influenza viruses around the world, along with learning about the viral strains that have the potential to cause pandemics. Penn Medicine has been awarded nearly $7 million in first-year funding, and the contract is expected to be supported for six additional years.

If You Don’t Have COVID Vaccine Side Effects, Are You Still Protected?

If You Don’t Have COVID Vaccine Side Effects, Are You Still Protected?

Not having side effects, or having not as severe side effects, is no reason to worry when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine, E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, told Scientific American. While researchers do not fully understand why only some people have side effects from COVID-19 vaccines, the experience probably reflects the quirks of each person’s immune system more than it does the vaccine’s effectiveness, Wherry said.

Wherry was also quoted in articles in The Atlanticabout how the immune systems of immunocompromised or immunosuppressed people—and people with long COVID—respond to vaccines. A recent study by Wherry and colleagues that suggests people who had COVID-19 may only need one vaccine dose gained widespread local coverage, including the Philadelphia Inquirer and Fox 29.

Analysis Finds Viral Variants of Concern in Over a Third of Latest COVID-19 Samples from Philadelphia-area Patients

Analysis Finds Viral Variants of Concern in Over a Third of Latest COVID-19 Samples from Philadelphia-area Patients

In an analysis of samples from COVID-19-positive patients taken in late February and early March, Frederic Bushman, PhD, chair of Microbiology, and his colleagues found that more than a third of these recent Philadelphia area cases were caused by concerning variants of COVID-19. “We know that mask use, social distancing, hand washing, and other simple interventions work against all variants of SARS-CoV-2, so we must keep up these measures,” Bushman said. “The less the virus spreads, the less opportunity it will have to mutate and develop variants with increased infectivity.”

Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy Awards $1 Million to Penn COVID-19 Repurposed Drug Registry

Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy Awards $1 Million to Penn COVID-19 Repurposed Drug Registry

David C. Fajgenbaum, MD, MBA, MSc, an assistant professor of Translational Medicine & Human Genetics and director of the Center for Cytokine Storm Treatment & Laboratory, was awarded $1 million by the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy to expand the scope of the COvid19 Registry of Off-label & New Agents (CORONA) project and build out his team to accelerate treatment identification for COVID-19.

Trial Site News

COVID-19 Test for Asymptomatic People Needed to Reopen Faster and More Safely

COVID-19 Test for Asymptomatic People Needed to Reopen Faster and More Safely

César de la Fuente, PhD, a Presidential Assistant Professor in Psychiatry, Microbiology, and Bioengineering, believes biosensor technology could make COVID-19 screening practical. De la Fuente’s lab developed a biosensor that captures the chemical information generated when the coronavirus’ spike protein binds to its natural receptors in human cells. The diagnostic enables high-frequency testing, which de la Fuente said is the key to preventing the spread of infection.

Philadelphia Inquirer

What to Know About MS and the COVID-19 Vaccine

What to Know About MS and the COVID-19 Vaccine

Amit Bar-Or, MD, FRCP, director of the Center for Neuroinflammation and Neurotherapeutics, offered insight on new guidance from the National MS Society on the COVID-19 vaccine for patients with multiple sclerosis (MS). “For the three approved vaccines in the United States, there are no safety issues unique for people with MS,” he said.

Neurology Today

How Long Will COVID-19 Vaccine Immunity Last?

How Long Will COVID-19 Vaccine Immunity Last?

Rigorous testing and clinical trials have shown that the vaccines are safe and highly effective at preventing COVID-19 and will likely fend off serious illness or hospitalization even if you do get sick. What’s still unclear is just how long that protection will last. E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, spoke about vaccine immunity. He noted that since people who’ve been vaccinated mount an even better immune response, he thinks immunity from the COVID-19 vaccines could last several years, if not longer.

AARP