The COVID-19 pandemic has swept across the globe, resulting in over 700 million confirmed infections and fatalities exceeding 7 million. The global economic impact is projected to surpass $80 trillion. The unprecedented worldwide SARS-CoV-2 vaccination campaign has proven to be the most effective measure in curbing the pandemic and reinstating normal social and economic activities.
How do vaccines work? What is the vaccine development process? How does the approval procedure unfold, and what are the costs of vaccine development? What is the likelihood of a future pandemic resurgence, and how can we enhance our response for such instances? Moreover, what role can biotechnology play in Saudi Arabia? Dr. Eppinger will address these questions, embarking on a journey that began with the exploration of deep Red Sea brine pool extremophile communities. This story took an unexpected turn with the emergence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in late 2019.
Drawing from hands-on experience derived from an international vaccine development initiative, Dr. Eppinger will illuminate the fascinating opportunities and challenges stemming from the translation of concepts within research laboratories into a tangible biopharmaceutical product. He will provide an encompassing overview of the project's outcomes, its present status, and the potential impact of the first in-Kingdom developed CoVID-19 vaccine. Moreover, he will provide a perspective on future vaccine developments and the prospects of an emerging Saudi Arabian biotech ecosystem.
Dr. Eppinger commenced his scientific career at the Technische Universität München (TUM) where he received his diploma (1996) and Ph.D. (1999) under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Dr. h. c. mult. Wolfgang A. Wolfgang A. Herrmann, focusing on research related to rare earth metal-based olefin polymerization catalysts. Scientific expertise in the area of biological/inorganic interfaces was developed during two subsequent postdoctoral tenures at the Scripps Research Institute (1999-2001, Prof. M. R. Ghadiri; 2001-2002 Prof. P. G. Schultz, joint affiliation at the Genomic Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation, GNF). Returning to Germany in 2002, he was awarded the "ForschungsDozentur" on molecular catalysis at TUM assuming the role of an autonomous research group leader. Here, he innovated methodologies that harnessed the biological toolkit for catalytic applications. In 2009, Dr. Eppinger assumed the position of a founding faculty member at KAUST and the KAUST Catalysis Center. Serving as the Principal Investigator of the Biological & Organometallic Catalysis Lab, he merged the intricate processes of living cells with the principles of chemistry, resulting in the creation of novel, highly selective, and efficient catalysts. Following his departure from KAUST in 2017, he sustained a program dedicated to the contemporary applications of medicinal (red) biotechnology. This program originated from a collaborative oncology project with the Sloan Kettering Cancer Research Center in New York. Initially concentrated on applications of metal complexes coupled with cancer-cell targeting affinity proteins, the research shifted towards exploring the chemiluminescent properties of transition metal complexes. This endeavor led to the formulation of tools for intraoperative imaging techniques and broader oncological applications in cancer treatment, prompting a transition from discovery-focused research to a translational approach addressing medical challenges. Dr. Eppinger has co-founded four biotech-companies and presently serves as the CEO of the aaxell GmbH in Germany and holds the position of Executive Director of the KAUST biotech start-up SAGEbio. He is recipient of the Hans-Fischer Price, a Marie-Curie Excellence Grant.