Professor S.S. Vasan (who goes by his surname) is a public health expert and holds an honorary chair in the Department of Health Sciences. He is the Director of the Office of Medical Research and Innovation, Western Australia, and was previously at the CSIRO Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness as COVID-19 Science Leader.
Before moving to Australia, he was senior business development manager for Public Health England (PHE), and performed this role for its predecessor public body the Health Protection Agency. A former McKinsey consultant and Rhodes scholar, he was also Adjunct Professor of Preventive and Social Medicine at JIPMER, an institution of national importance under India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
At the CSIRO, Vasan led on research, development and preclinical evaluation of medical countermeasures for dangerous pathogens affecting humans and animals (zoonoses), especially those requiring high containment at biosafety level 3 or 4. Previously, he was PHE's business development lead for innovation, consultancy and global health including response to Ebola and Zika (for which his team got the RCUK Impact Award 2015 for contribution to society, and the British Expertise International Award 2018 for healthcare). He represents Australia (and previously represented the UK) in task groups of the Australia-Canada-UK-US Medical Counter Measures Consortium. He is a founding Steering Committee Member of the Canada-based BSL4Znet and has represented PHE's overseas commercial engagement in the UK InterLab Forum and the India-UK Joint Working Group on Health. He also has health services commissioning and delivery experience as Customer Delivery Director for the NHS South, Central and West CSU.
Before joining government service, Vasan worked for Oxford University's spin-out company Oxitec as Head of Public Health, and was responsible for the progress of transgenic mosquito technologies from laboratory to field to combat Chikungunya, Yellow Fever and Zika. Vasan obtained his doctorate from Trinity College, Oxford, and has been elected a fellow by several prestigious professional societies.
Vasan’s current research interests are in infectious diseases pipeline (especially the priorities of Australia and its Medical Counter Measures Consortium partners), antimicrobial resistance, tuberculosis, and global health emergency preparedness, resilience and response (for instance, countermeasures for Ebola and Zika). He champions public sector innovations and is responsible for the administration of Western Australia's Future Health Research and Innovation Fund.
As CSIRO's COVID-19 science leader based at the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness (ACDP), formerly the Australian Animal Health Laboratory, he led on research, development and preclinical evaluation of medical countermeasures for dangerous pathogens affecting humans and animals (zoonoses), especially those requiring high containment at biosafety level 3 or 4. The portfolio of projects he successfully initiated and led as Principal Investigator includes COVID-19 systems biology case control study in Victoria (CSIRO in partnership with Barwon Health and Deakin University), finding repurposed drugs for COVID-19 (MRFF), preclinical development of a warm vaccine and antibody therapy (Mynvax), and research on how the SARS-CoV-2 virus is mutating and its impact on vaccines and countermeasures (FDA). He led his ACDP project team to the Chairman's Medal 2020, the highest award bestowed by the national science agency of Australia, for critical preclinical evaluation studies on the Oxford-AZ (adenoviral) and Inovio (DNA) vaccines.
Before joining government service, Vasan worked for Oxford University’s spin-out company Oxitec as Head of Public Health, and was responsible for the progress of transgenic mosquito technologies from laboratory to field to combat Chikungunya, Dengue, Yellow Fever and Zika. As co-investigator, he enabled several world’s first studies on transgenic mosquitoes such as semi-field trials (2007-08), regulated open field trials (2010-11), bionomics and relative susceptibility of transgenic mosquitoes to insecticides and key viruses (2006-11). His team’s pioneering efforts to advance this novel technology set the precedent in the world for import, regulatory approval, step-wise evaluation and public engagement pertaining to transgenic mosquitoes in several countries, subsequently leading to successful commercialisation.
He has played a key role in numerous initiatives sponsored by international organisations (eg CBD, UNDP, WHO), and acted as expert reviewer/member to various governmental committees, regulatory and consultation exercises, and these include vector-borne diseases from CCHF – through Chikungunya and Dengue – to Malaria and Zika. He was co-principal investigator for the WHO/TDR Asian Biosafety Training Network, and a resource trainer for the WHO/TDR African Biosafety Training Network as well as the UNDP Risk Assessment and Risk Communication Workshops on Transgenic Insects. He was one of four experts invited to review the Sub Working Group’s Guidance on Living Modified Mosquitoes set up under the Convention on Biological Diversity.
Vasan co-founded an international symposia series on the Burden of Neglected Diseases (which took place in Brazil, India and Malaysia) and was the senior British author in a set of key publications by IIM Ahmedabad and WHO (several of them in collaboration with Professor Donald Shepherd who coined the concept of QALYs) which quantified the immediate cost of Aedes mosquito-borne diseases in India, Malaysia, Thailand, etc. His research group was also the first to show that the impact of these diseases on tourism revenues could be substantial, and even exceed the immediate annual cost of illness in some cases.
Vasan also has strategy consulting experience working for McKinsey and Company (USA), through its biotech, pharma and medical products practices. Projects he had worked on included restructuring of pharmaceutical companies, growth and turn-around strategies, R&D outsourcing, spin-outs, public-private partnership, AIDS/HIV, etc.