I am extremely saddened to learn of the death of Dr Adel Mahmoud. After meeting Adel in Nairobi in 1981, he became a true mentor for more than 40 years with an unmatched knowledge about vaccines and a commitment to global health.
His celebrated medical career involved pioneering work in the treatment and prevention of infectious diseases, with a particular focus on neglected tropical diseases, especially parasitic infections.
Born in Cairo in 1941, his journey to become one of the most prominent and widely respected voices in global health was perhaps against the odds. When Adel was aged just 10 his father died from pneumococcal pneumonia, a catalyst for Adel earning his MD at the University of Cairo in 1963.
Adel obtained a PhD from LSHTM in 1971. His early research focused on the role of eosinophils, a type of white blood cell, in the body’s defense against parasitic worms. Choosing not to return to a hostile political climate in Egypt, Adel immigrated to the United States in 1973 as a postdoctoral fellow at Case Western Reserve University where he rose through the ranks to ultimately chair the Department of Medicine from 1987 to 1998.
In 1998, he was recruited to serve as president of Merck Vaccines, a position he held until 2006, where he played a pivotal role in the development and commercialization of new vaccines to help prevent severe gastroenteritis, human papillomavirus (HPV) and shingles, as well as the quadrivalent formulation of measles-mumps-rubella-varicella vaccine.
During his career Adel often provided scientific advice to the World Health Organization, the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control among many others. He was president of the International Society of Infectious Diseases and on boards of directors at GAVI, the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative and the International Vaccine Institute.
Adel returned to his academic roots in 2006 by joining Princeton University, becoming a key player in the development of Princeton’s Global Health Programme. In the wake of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014, Adel began advocating for the creation of a global vaccine-development fund. “We cannot let financial burdens stand in the way of solving deadly global health crises,” he said.
Adel’s sense of humour was legendary, and he was devoted to teaching and mentoring his whole professional life. He left us too early but his legacy in academia, biopharmaceutical research and development, and global health policy, will not be forgotten.
Dr Adel Mahmoud died Monday, June 11, in New York City. He is survived by his wife of 25 years, Dr. Sally Hodder, and a son, Jay Thornton.
Photo credit: Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs