Wellspring of discovery

The impact of the Emory Vaccine Center is astounding

Richard Compans was asked: What’s the big idea?

The question came in the early 1990s by scientific colleagues at Georgia State and the University of Georgia. They were asking Compans, who chaired microbiology and immunology at Emory, what big biotech idea should the community get behind to put Georgia on the map?

Compans knew the National Institutes of Health was taking a greater interest in supporting vaccinology work. In that observation, he saw an opportunity to be seized — by forming a new center for vaccine research. 

In stepped the Georgia Research Alliance to provide key investment. And in 1996, the Emory Vaccine Center was opened.

This year, that single research enterprise will reach a major milestone: $1 billion brought into Georgia in outside research grants and contracts. 

Along the way, its hundreds of scientists have built an extraordinary portfolio of discoveries.

In those earliest days, Compans was asked another question. Who should run such an enterprise? 

It didn’t take long for him to answer that question, either. A young scientist from Hyderabad, India that Compans worked with at the Scripps Institute — and had stayed in touch with over the years — would be a good pick.

That scientist, GRA Eminent Scholar Rafi Ahmed, became the founding director of the Emory Vaccine Center — a position he continues to hold today.


Note: GRA’s $31 million investment in the Emory Vaccine Center over two decades has helped generated $1.2 billion in Federal and industry research grants (as of 2019). That includes $16 million returned to the state in payroll taxes.


First Published: 2018
Tags: Emory University

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