Kizzmekia Corbett Named 2021 E.E. Just Award Winner and Lecturer

Kizzmekia S. Corbett, well known for her work on the mRNA vaccines used to protect against Covid-19, has been named the recipient of the 2021 E.E. Just Award by the ASCB.

Corbett is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. She is also the Shutzer Assistant Professor at Harvard’s Radcliff Institute of Advanced Study and an associate member of the Phillip T. and Susan M. Ragon Institute.

The E.E. Just Award honors early 20th century biologist Ernest Everett Just, who made groundbreaking contributions to cell and developmental biology. It recognizes the outstanding scientific achievements of a U.S. researcher belonging to a historically excluded racial or ethnic group, and the awardee is selected by the ASCB Minorities Affairs Committee.

“I am honored to receive the E.E. Just Lecturer Award for my contributions to COVID-19 vaccine development,” Corbett wrote to ASCB. “Above my contributions to COVID-19 vaccine development, it’s an honor to be recognized among the ranks of a long list of accomplished peers who have received this award previously and who will in the future.”

On December 9 Corbett will present the E.E. Just Lecture on the topic of the rapid development of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, giving a perspective of the history of the vaccine development timeline and the outlook of the vaccine in present time.

Corbett earned her BS in Biological Sciences with a secondary major in Sociology in 2008 from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, where she was part of the elite Robert and Jane Meyerhoff Scholars Program, as well as a National Institutes of Health undergraduate scholar. She then earned her PhD in Microbiology and Immunology in 2014 from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she received the Director’s Scholarship and the Doctoral Merit Award.

Prior to Harvard, Corbett was a research fellow and scientific lead for the Coronavirus Vaccines and Immunopathogenesis Team at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Vaccine Research Center. Her expertise in viral immunology propelled the development of novel vaccines for pandemic preparedness, including mRNA-1273, a leading vaccine against SARS-CoV-2. The vaccine concept—which incorporated mRNA-1273— was designed by Corbett’s National Institutes of Health team from viral sequence and rapidly deployed to industry partner, Moderna, Inc., for Phase 1 clinical trials, which began only 66 days from
the release of the viral sequence—an unprecedented feat.

The mRNA-1273 vaccine was shown to be 94.1% effective in Phase 3 trials and was authorized for use in multiple countries. Alongside mRNA-1273, Corbett boasts a patent portfolio that includes universal coronavirus and influenza vaccine concepts and novel therapeutic antibodies. In all, she has over 15 years of experience studying dengue virus, respiratory syncytial virus, influenza virus, and coronaviruses, garnering her several prestigious awards, such as the Benjamin Franklin Next Gen Award and the Salzman Memorial Award in Virology.

Corbett will continue this type of research in her
new role at Harvard. According a news release from the
institution, “Corbett will head the new Coronaviruses & Other Relevant Emerging Infectious Diseases (CoreID) Lab to study and understand the interface between hosts’ immune systems and viruses that cause respiratory disease, with the goal of informing development of novel and potentially universal vaccines.” Combining her research goals with her knack for mentorship, Corbett also invests much of her time in underserved communities as an advocate of STEM education and vaccine awareness.

About the Author:


Mary Spiro is ASCB's Science Writer and Social Media Manager.