Behind the vaccine development scene: A chat with Senior Medical Officer Alan Fix

Sep 11, 2013


Eileen Quinn
Communications & Advocacy Director for PATH's Center for Vaccine Innovation and Access


One of the job perks at PATH is working with lots of smart people all relentlessly tackling a health and scientific challenge. Our vaccine development program is one such team of scientists, doctors, and other experts focused on accelerating progress on new vaccines for infants and children in low-income countries.  We buttonholed Alan Fix, senior medical officer based in our Washington DC office, to find out about his work.


 What does it mean to be medical officer?

The most important part of my job is ensuring that our clinical trials protect the safety of the volunteers and meet international standards for vaccine trials. Because safety needs to be built into the trial design, I help with setting up our trials and helping the clinical trial sites prepare. The additional important role in participating in, if not leading, development of the trials is helping to assure sound and relevant scientific approaches.  I also support the sites throughout the trials and help with reviewing the results and distilling what we learn from the research. 

How did you find your way to this work?

My training is in Pediatrics and Preventive Medicine, so working to develop and increase global access to effective pediatric vaccines has obvious appeal.. From the moment I started working in public health in the developing world, I have found it stimulating and invigorating. And at PATH, we're focused on the children who are most vulnerable. For these children, vaccines offer perhaps one of their best hopes for a healthy shot at life. The exciting part of the work is that we are making rapid progress on vaccine candidates that could have substantial public health impact.

Can you say more about how you work with our trial partners?

We aim to share scientific and operational experience to move the work forward in a collaborative way. We work together on problem solving, for example how to adapt to meet shifting regulatory requirements or how to ensure the appropriate resources at the trial site that will meet the needs of the participants. Safety is the number one concern in any clinical trial, especially so in settings where children may have underlying health challenges such as undernutrition or exposure to pathogens in unsafe drinking water, compounded by limited access to care.  We have to be ready to provide care if a child becomes ill during the study even if that illness is unrelated to the vaccine candidate.

That is why I am so impressed with our partners. For example, we are working with The Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences in Sewagram, India. This is a facility that is deeply committed to the community around it and is well structured to meet that commitment. They have attracted dedicated staff and students and they are tireless in their efforts to meet the community's needs. It is inspiring to see the good they are doing and to be a part of that.