After detecting a probable viral breakout, the new White House scientific adviser aims to have a vaccine ready to battle the next pandemic in less than 100 days.
Eric Lander painted a rosy near future in his first interview after being sworn in on Wednesday, in which a renewed American emphasis on science not only better prepare the world for the next pandemic with plug-and-play vaccines, but also changes how medicine fights disease and treats patients, curbs climate change, and expands space exploration. He even alluded to “Star Trek.”
Lander told The Press, “This is a time in so many ways, not just health when we can reassess fundamental assumptions about what’s possible, and that’s true of climate and energy and many other areas.” On a 500-year-old portion of the Mishnah, an ancient Jewish scripture that documents oral traditions and regulations, Lander took his oath of office.
Lander is a trained mathematician and geneticist who managed the Broad Institute at MIT and Harvard and was involved in the human genome mapping effort. He stated that he is more concerned with the lessons learnt from this epidemic to prepare for another one.
On one hand, it was incredible that we were able to develop extremely potent vaccinations in less than a year, but on the other hand, a year is a long time.” Even though it used to take three or four years, according to Lander. “We want to get this done in 100 days to make a big difference. As a result, many of us have been talking about a 100-day deadline from the time a virus with pandemic potential is identified.”
“If it had happened earlier in 2020, we would have had a vaccine,” Lander added. “It makes you swallow for a second, but it’s completely doable.”
Long before the pandemic, scientists were developing so-called “all-purpose ready-to-go platform technologies” for vaccinations. They’re referred to as “plug-and-play.” Rather than using the germ itself to create a vaccine, scientists employ messenger RNA and combine it with the germ’s genetic coding. That’s what happened with the COVID-19 injections from Pfizer and Moderna.
Lander is hopeful about dealing with future pandemics, but he is concerned about the consequences for cancer prevention. Solar and energy wind costs have dropped by nearly 90%, making them as inexpensive as the fossil fuels that cause climate change, according to Lander. But, he added, there is also a need for an “explosion of ideas” to enhance battery life and deliver carbon-free, weather-independent electricity. Those breakthroughs, he added, require governmental incentives, which are included in Biden’s jobs proposal.
Lander noted that reducing methane emissions is critical to combating climate change, but that first-generation technology is needed to pinpoint where methane is seeping. Lander said he was too young to comment on whether the objective should be to get to the moon or Mars.
NASA was pushed by the Obama administration away from the Bush-era goal to return people to the moon and toward Mars or an asteroid. The Trump administration not only returned its attention to the moon but also established a target for a new lunar landing in 2024.