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The Pandemic People: Sir Jeremy Farrar

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Duration: 0:34:09 | Added: 04 Mar 2024
Sir Andrew Pollard talks to Sir Jeremy Farrar, Chief Scientist at the World Health Organisation and previously the director of The Wellcome Trust in the UK.

Andrew Pollard's guest on this podcast is Sir Jeremy Farrar, who serves as the Chief Scientist at the World Health Organisation and held the position of director at the Wellcome Trust in the UK from 2013 to 2023.

Sir Farrar is a clinician-scientist who served for two terms at the Wellcome Trust. Besides overseeing a significant increase in the Trust's endowment and annual spending, he played a key role in the race to develop COVID-19 vaccines. Before joining Wellcome in 2013, Sir Farrar spent 17 years as the director of a clinical research unit at a hospital for tropical diseases in Vietnam, particularly focusing on emerging infectious diseases.

Jeremy discusses his early career training in Neurology and then his Ph.D. researching the immune disorder Myasthenia Gravis at Oxford University. This work led him to study infectious diseases primarily in Vietnam in the mid-1990s. A key transformative moment for Sir Farrar was the Nipah virus outbreak in Malaysia from September 1998 to May 1999. This outbreak resulted in 105 deaths and the near collapse of the key local pig-farming industry.

They then discuss the regional SARS-1 (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) coronavirus outbreak of 2003 and the lessons learned from that outbreak. They also examine the impact of the H5N1 virus that followed shortly after SARS-CoV1. They talk through the risks posed in the future by a non-human influenza virus crossing the species barrier from birds, poultry, or animals and what needs to be done to monitor this risk in the future and what it means for future vaccine research.

In 2013, Sir Jeremy Farrar became the head of the Wellcome Trust in the UK. The Wellcome Trust, established in 1936 to fund research to improve human and animal health, is the largest funder of non-governmental funding for scientific research in the UK and one of the largest research providers globally. Sir Farrar talks about his task of steering this growth period for the Wellcome Trust and discusses the role of science communication and policy.

Turning to the events of 2020, Sir Farrar discloses how he initially was alerted to the pandemic outbreak in Wuhan by international colleagues and then the steps he took as an independent scientist to alert the scientific community and advise the UK government. The Wellcome Trust acted as a pivotal funder in 2020; it instigated and funded important vaccine and medical research work in the early period to underpin Covid-19 medical trials and studies.

Andrew Pollard and Jeremy Farrar finish their conversation by looking at the lessons learned from the pandemic and what needs to be done globally within science and wider society to prepare for any future infectious disease outbreak.

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