The University of Oxford has secured a critical professorship in vaccinology for the future following a gift of £3.33 million from the Saïd family. The gift will enable Professor Sarah Gilbert, the inaugural post holder, to continue her ground-breaking research in the field, while also helping to ensure that Oxford remains at the forefront of vaccine development for generations to come.

Professor Gilbert has 25 years of experience in the development of vaccines against malaria, influenza and emerging and re-emerging viral pathogens, including Lassa, Nipah and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). In 2018 she began preparing for “Disease X”, the World Health Organisation’s term for a hypothetical, unknown pathogen that could cause a future epidemic. This preparation proved essential when, in January 2020, reports from China alerted the world to a new viral threat.

Professor Sarah Gilbert at the Jenner Institute. Photo credit: University of Oxford / John Cairns

The genetic sequence of SARS-CoV-2 was released on 11 January and later that same day, Professor Gilbert and her team began designing Oxford’s COVID-19 vaccine: ChAdOx1 nCoV-19. Underpinned by Professor Gilbert’s research into vaccines that work by inducing strong and protective T cell responses, ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 became the first COVID-19 vaccine to enter into Phase III clinical trials. Professor Gilbert is currently working with the Oxford Vaccine Group, teams within the Jenner Institute and a network of international collaborators to test its efficacy in over 20,000 trial participants around the world.

Boosted by a further £1.66 million in matched funding from the University, the Saïd family’s gift has enabled the permanent endowment of Professor Gilbert’s post, which will now be known as the Saïd Professorship of Vaccinology. The Saïd family’s support will not only prove crucial during this pandemic, but will help to ensure that Oxford has the team in place to prepare for future pathogens and react quickly when the next “Disease X” emerges.

Professor Gavin Screaton, Head of the Medical Sciences Division, said: ‘We are deeply grateful to Wafic Saïd and his family for their incredibly generous gift. By securing the future of this important post, the University will be able to continue to deliver and indeed accelerate its world-leading vaccine development research – work that will have an impact on lives globally both during this crisis and as other such challenges arise in the future.’

Wafic Saïd said: ‘I am delighted to support Professor Sarah Gilbert and the University of Oxford as they work urgently towards developing a vaccine for the COVID-19 virus. This is the single most important thing in the world today as the only way we can return to normality is to have an effective vaccine.

‘I hope that the Saïd Professorship of Vaccinology will strengthen in perpetuity the University’s efforts to be a world leader in vaccine research.’

Philanthropist and businessman Mr Saïd is a long-standing supporter of the University of Oxford. He is the founding benefactor of the Saïd Business School, and has continued to give generously since its establishment, providing support for MBA and doctoral scholarships, careers and alumni services, and entrepreneurship initiatives. In 2019 he donated £15 million towards the Global Leadership Centre, a new teaching and residential facility for the school’s executive education programmes.