By now, Corbett’s contributions to the development of Covid-19 vaccines are well-known.
In January 2020, she was scientific lead for a coronavirus team at the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases when SARS-CoV-2 emerged. Corbett isolated the gene sequence needed to create synthetic messenger RNA molecules that could direct the human body’s own cells to make fragments of the spike protein. Doing so, in theory, meant the body could produce antibodies against the virus.
Corbett’s lab sent the sequence to Cambridge, Mass.-based Moderna, which was ready to manufacture and test the novel vaccine. The approach worked in test subjects, and the rest is history. (Moderna drew fire after filing a patent application — later put on hold — that claimed Corbett and her NIH colleagues were not co-inventors of the vaccine.)
Last year, Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health hired Corbett away from NIAID and put her in charge of its new Coronaviruses & Other Relevant Emerging Infectious Diseases (CoreID) Lab, which will focus on preparing for the next pandemic. It’s one more sign that the latest coronavirus threat is here to stay.
In addition to her role at Harvard, Corbett was appointed by Boston Mayor Michelle Wu to a new Covid-19 Advisory Committee, which will recommend steps to meet the city’s health needs. Corbett has argued that vaccines are “a great equalizer,” at least for infectious diseases, since they can, in theory, be provided at low cost to everyone — eliminating health disparities for those diseases.