UMBC alumnae racing to develop coronavirus vaccine

Kizzmekia Corbett ’08, M16, biological sciences, says it feels like she’s “living in a constant adrenaline rush.” Maybe that’s because she and her team at the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases have been working around the clock for weeks. They’re racing to develop a vaccine for the coronavirus faster than it can race across the globe.

“To be living in this moment where I have the opportunity to work on something that has imminent global importance…it’s just a surreal moment for me,” Corbett says.

Despite it feeling surreal, the advances Corbett and her team are making are very real, and they’re setting records. “We are making better progress than I could have ever hoped for,” she says. After three months of studies in test tubes and in animals, the vaccine her team developed is about to enter a phase I clinical trial, a crucial hurdle on the way to FDA approval.


“Focus, focus, focus”

Corbett says her experience as a Meyerhoff Scholar at UMBC helped prepare her and another core team member, post-baccalaureate researcher Olubukola Abiona ‘17, M25, biochemistry and molecular biology, for a moment like this. “Discipline is one of the biggest things that Meyerhoff taught us,” Corbett says. “And it matters—a lot—in these instances of being pulled in multiple directions and really trying to understand what the priorities are.”

Corbett, who came to UMBC from North Carolina, and Abiona, who attended Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Prince George’s County, also draw on UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski’s consistent exhortation to “Focus, focus, focus,” Corbett says. “The UMBC connection and the training we received there, for both of us, has been instrumental in how we are operating right now,” she adds.

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