Washington, DC, October 22, 2013—PATH announced today the appointment of Ashley Birkett, PhD, as director of its Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI), which drives the development of safe and effective vaccines for the fight against malaria. The malaria parasite still kills an estimated 660,000 people each year, most of them children in sub-Saharan Africa, and half the world’s population remains at risk of contracting malaria. The announcement was made this morning at Harvard University’s Harvard Malaria Forum, entitled “Rethinking R&D in the New Era of Malaria Eradication.”
A five-year veteran of MVI, Birkett was most recently the program’s deputy director, serving simultaneously as director of research and development (R&D)—the latter a position he has held since joining PATH in 2008. Birkett’s appointment as director became effective earlier this month.
“Since 2008, Ashley has contributed significantly to every major R&D initiative at MVI,” said Dr. David C. Kaslow, vice president of product development at PATH. “His technical expertise, tireless passion, and indomitable leadership make him the ideal person to lead MVI in the exciting journey that lies ahead for malaria vaccine development. I am also pleased that PATH can attract and grow top talent and is able to promote such talent from within the organization.”
In his position as director of R&D at MVI, Dr. Birkett led MVI’s efforts to support the development of transmission-blocking vaccines. He also guided MVI’s portfolio of evaluation technology projects, which are developing and refining ways to assess vaccine efficacy prior to large-scale field trials, and provided technical support across the range of MVI’s vaccine development programs, including the RTS,S program.
As Birkett assumes his new role, his predecessor, Dr. Kaslow, will transition to his position as a vice president at PATH. Dr. Kaslow will oversee all five product development programs, as well as PATH’s China programs, which also focus heavily on product development activities.
Dr. Kaslow will continue to be closely involved with MVI’s efforts to complete development of RTS,S, the world’s most clinically advanced malaria vaccine candidate. RTS,S is currently in phase 3 field trials, typically one of the final steps before submission to regulatory authorities. The trials are the outcome of a decade-long collaboration between PATH and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) that now involves 11 research centers in seven sub-Saharan African countries. Earlier this month, results from the trial revealed that RTS,S continues to protect young children and infants from clinical malaria up to 18 months after vaccination. Further data from longer-term follow-up and the impact of a “booster” dose given 18 months after the initial three doses are expected to become available in 2014.
“I am thrilled to have the opportunity to lead MVI’s critical work to develop safe and effective malaria vaccines,” Birkett said. “As we dare to dream of a world free from malaria, I can’t imagine it happening without a vaccine.”
Birkett has more than 15 years of vaccine development experience, primarily with biotechnology companies, where he successfully advanced novel influenza and malaria vaccine candidates from research through first-in-human clinical studies. Prior to joining MVI, he was senior director of Preclinical Research at Acambis (now Sanofi Pasteur Biologics Co.), where he had responsibility for the company's global preclinical vaccine research portfolio, with a special focus on influenza and adjuvant technology identification. Prior to Acambis, he played a similar role at Apovia Inc., first as senior director of Research and, subsequently, as vice president of Preclinical Development.
For seven years, spanning his time at both Acambis and Apovia, Birkett led the Influenza Vaccine Program through its initial IND filing and a phase 1 trial for which promising results were released in January 2008. Between 1997 and 2004, he led the Malaria Vaccine Program housed first at Immune Complex Corporation and then at Apovia. This program was the first corporate partnership for MVI following the founding of the initiative at PATH in 1999.
Birkett earned a PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics from Virginia Commonwealth University; he has a BSc (Honors) in Applied Biological Sciences from the University of the West of England in the United Kingdom.
About the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI)
The PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI) is a program established at PATH through an initial grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. MVI’s mission is to accelerate the development of malaria vaccines and catalyze timely access in endemic countries. MVI’s vision is a world free from malaria. For more information, please visit www.malariavaccine.org.
PATH is an international nonprofit organization that transforms global health through innovation. PATH takes an entrepreneurial approach to developing and delivering high-impact, low-cost solutions, from lifesaving vaccines, drugs, diagnostics, and devices to collaborative programs with communities. Through its work in more than 70 countries, PATH and its partners empower people to achieve their full potential.