Dr. Abbas Vafai earned his M.S. degree in microbiology from Western Michigan University and his Ph.D. from Southern Illinois University. Following his postdoctoral fellowship in neurovirology at the University of Pennsylvania, he went on to serve in faculty positions at both the University of Colorado, where research on the vaccine began, and the University of Illinois, where his vaccine research was completed.
Dr. Vafai, while at the University of Colorado and University of Illinois, discovered a glycoprotein (gE protein) found on the surface of the Varicella Zoster Virus that could be used as a general vaccine antigen to avoid using the actual virus. After further development and filing patents to protect the gE antigen, Research Corporation Technology (RCT) exclusively licensed the technology to GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in 2000. Utilizing the gE antigen, GSK developed a new type of VZV vaccine which promises to be safer and more effective in preventing Shingles episodes across a broad patient population, including older patients and those who are immunocompromised. GSK filed for regulatory approval of the shingles vaccine, to be marketed as Shingrix™ on October 24, 2016 and received FDA approval in October 2017. Shingrix™ was marketed in December of 2017.
Dr. Abbas Vafai later served as Branch Chief and Associate Director at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before retiring in 2015.