This month, an international ranking distinguished Alexis Kalergis as Chile’s leading immunologist.
The UC academic and director of the Millennium Institute in Immunology and Immunotherapy led studies necessary for the development of vaccines against COVID-19.
The portal www.research.com, of research for scientists, indicated that “the fields of study for which he is best known are the immune system, genes and internal medicine”, and that within the subjects addressed by his work, are T and B cells, autoimmune diseases, antigens, inflammatory bowel disease, thyroid, kidney, immunotherapy, cancer and multiple sclerosis.”
This is one of several awards that the outstanding scientist has received for his work.
“It is an honor for me to receive this important recognition, which I receive with great gratitude and humility and which is also shared with an extensive group of collaborators, and young scientists who, as a team, aspire that from the science we develop at the university we can positively impact society,” Kalergis told El Mostrador.
“This team has shown that through basic-fundamental, applied and clinical scientific research and its dissemination we can contribute to the development of public policies in the search for a better quality of life for our population, nationally and internationally, as in the complex moments imposed on us by the COVID-19 pandemic. Faced with this complex global health situation, we have been part of the development of a vaccine that has contributed to the population immunity necessary to begin to improve the health situation caused by the coronavirus, both in adults and children.”
In this case, this recognition highlights the quality and quantity of publications made by his group and the scientific impact of his research in the discipline, which also recognizes the great scientific level that Chile has.
“This recognition also means our commitment to continue contributing from science to the development of the country and at the same time involves assuming the responsibility of continuing to work for science within our community,” says Kalergis.
Regarding the importance of this award, the scientist stressed that it is a recognition that is made as a team by highlighting the scientific impact of their scientific research in the discipline they carry out from Chile to the world. In this case, this recognition highlights the quality and quantity of publications made by the group and also recognizes the great scientific level that Chile has.
Research.com is a prestigious platform recognized worldwide, which quantifies and rates scientists, journals and conferences around the world according to certain indicators.
“In particular, the recognition I was given is given by a world ranking generated from the number of scientific articles published and the citations they receive in the discipline of immunology. In this way, the scientific productivity and the impact of this research on the community are highlighted,” he concluded.
Several have been the milestones in Kalergis’ career, both personal and professional.
“Among the latter, I believe that my experience as an undergraduate student at the UC and having later obtained my doctoral degree and doing my postdoctoral training in foreign institutions of very high prestige gave me unique tools to build my scientific career and be able to contribute to the growth of immunology in Chile, work that I have been able to exercise from the UC as a Full Professor and Member of the Chilean Academy of Sciences”, Expressed.
A very important milestone that has been reached as part of this experience has been the training of a large number of young researchers, who have been inserted in national and international academic communities.
Another important milestone that stands out is having established the Millennium Institute in Immunology and Immunotherapy, in which he participates as director and includes basic and clinical researchers of the highest level in Chile.
This institute was designated “Center of Excellence” by the Federation of Societies of Clinical Immunology (FOCIS) and has made very significant contributions to the development of immunology in Chile: it has trained many young researchers and has developed basic scientific research motivated by the Curiosity, which in addition to being published in high-impact journals, has led to new technologies for human health that are being transferred to national society, such as vaccines, diagnostic methods and cancer therapies, he notes proudly.
“In a very remarkable way, the capacities established in the Millennium Institute allowed us to make a very important contribution to face the pandemic caused by SARS-CoV-2 through the associative work of researchers from our institute who were key actors in the development and early and preferential access of vaccines against COVID-19, which allowed the start of the successful campaign of vaccination of the Chilean population against COVID-19.”
Kalergis was instrumental in the issue of vaccines for Chile, thanks to his experience in the subject.
“The previous scientific validation we had achieved with international collaborators certainly facilitated and accelerated the establishment of the scientific linkage leading to the development of vaccines for COVID-19. With this objective, an academic-scientific collaboration agreement was established, which achieved the reciprocal and collaborative development of vaccines against SARS-CoV-2, through scientific and clinical studies,” he says.
This agreement gave rise to something very important, which was the possibility of accessing a priority and preferential supply of doses for population use in Chile, once approved by the respective regulatory agencies.
“This right that we obtained from the university was transferred 100% to the State of Chile through an agreement between the UC and the Ministry of Health, which made available to this Ministry the option of preferential access. This allowed our country to ensure an early and priority supply of the doses necessary to start a mass vaccination campaign against COVID-19 in Chile on property,” he says.
In this way, thanks to the joint work that is born from Chilean academic science and international collaborations based on mutual validation and scientific diplomacy, they contributed to feed a national vaccination system coordinated by the National Immunization Program of MINSAL, but which also involves Regional Governments, municipalities, clinics and national health personnel, Adds.
Kalergis stresses that the collaboration agreement with Sinovac is based on “our ability to do scientific and clinical research in Chile, with global impact”.
“The data obtained in our studies have not only contributed to vaccination in Chile, but also to other countries in the region and have been highlighted by prestigious international agencies, such as the WHO. Having implemented the execution of scientific-clinical studies that allowed the import of millions of doses of vaccines against COVID-19 was a very exciting process for both our entire team, which involved the participation of several universities and hospitals throughout our territory.”
And although the pandemic is not yet over and the confirmed cases of Covid-19 remain high, a significant decrease in severe cases, hospitalized people and deaths from coronavirus has been quantified, “all this thanks to a timely mass vaccination, which has saved hundreds of thousands of lives in our country.”
For Kalergis, although the figures of the pandemic have improved significantly thanks to population vaccination and other measures such as the use of masks, it is natural that there are oscillations – ups and downs – in the number of cases.
This is known for the history of science and medicine in situations of epidemics that have been controlled thanks to vaccination (such as smallpox, measles, polio, etc.), that is, after mass vaccination and obtaining population immunity, cases of infection can remain for years or even decades, he explains.
Indeed, the effect of vaccines means that these cases are mostly mild, with a decrease in severe cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
“However, we still have a lot to learn about the virus, its variants and the disease they cause in people, so even though the numbers are improving, science must continue to advance in the understanding of the disease and in improving or updating vaccines against the coronavirus.”
Working in Chile
A remarkable fact in the case of Kalergis is that, although he studied abroad, he chose to return to Chile and work in the country.
“I did my PhD and Postdoctoral studies at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Rockefeller University, in the United States. I had the opportunity to be a student and later instructor of courses in Immunology and Microbiology, taught by professors experts and very prominent in the area of infectious diseases, widely recognized internationally for their scientific work, which was key to deciding to continue my training in the area of infectious diseases and vaccine development. In addition, as part of my training, I was able to do very illustrative and productive scientific research stays with collaborators in Switzerland, France and Japan,” he says.
However, “after knowing and learning a lot from international experience, I chose to return to Chile to develop my independent scientific career, mainly because I believe that our national reality has great potential to make science an engine for our social well-being.”
“Our culture has allowed spaces for Chilean science, whose main foundation is a talented scientific youth, has allowed the development of high-impact projects from Chile to the world. In addition, I am passionate about the idea of seeing Chile as a scientific-technological pole in the field of immunology, the discovery, development and production of vaccines that save human lives,” he says.
Kalergis also anticipates that he has several projects on the horizon. First, it hopes to complete the implementation in Chile of a vaccine production laboratory under good manufacturing practice standards, for research and scientific-clinical studies in humans. This laboratory is already under construction in the Innovation Center of the Catholic University.
In addition, he and his group are developing several scientific-clinical studies for vaccines against various viruses, such as the Respiratory Syncytial Virus, a study designed to evaluate the vaccine in children.
Other challenges are to continue with the development of scientific-clinical studies of vaccines against coronavirus variants, in line with the studies that we have promoted together with other universities and hospitals in Chile. He explains that it is important to continue with the generation of new prototypes of vaccines against COVID-19, given that they have achieved important scientific-clinical advances.
“We also hope to continue supporting the implementation of scientific capacities in Chile for the discovery, development and manufacture of vaccines in collaboration with national and international public-private institutions. But the most important thing is the day to day with my students in the classrooms and in the laboratory, given that the training of talented young scientists is the engine of the integral development of our country,” he concludes.
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