Meet a scientist who helps translate inventions into vaccines to protect public health: Beth-Ann Coller
August 1, 2019
“It’s amazing to be able to work on something that has such an important impact on public health, to really make a difference, to hopefully save lives with novel and innovative products that we develop.”
Executive Director, Global Clinical Development
Beth-Ann asks a lot of questions…and solves a lot of problems. That’s what makes her so successful at translating inventions and ideas into concrete products – specifically, vaccines – that can help save lives.
“Inquiry is fundamental to everything we do in vaccine development,” says Beth-Ann. “Science, in general, is built on inquiry. As a science-based company, we really pride ourselves on working to always strive for the highest-level science that we can.”
And, that means always asking questions and challenging the work we’re doing: ‘Are we approaching things the right way? Are there other innovative approaches that could be faster, better, more effective?’
As executive director of the global clinical development organization, Beth-Ann oversees investigational vaccine products as they move through the different clinical phases required to demonstrate that they are safe and effective.
“This involves a lot of problem solving and harnessing energy in the right direction so that we get the products out there as quickly as possible for the people and communities that need them,” she says.
Impacting public health is a tremendously motivating force
Beth-Ann joined the company in 2010, when Merck acquired the small biotech group where she was the chief scientific officer leading investigational vaccine development efforts. She’s continued that work here at Merck, leading and inspiring cross functional teams focused on developing new vaccines in important disease areas.
“Much of my focus over the last 25 years has been on tropical diseases; it’s an area of particular interest to me,” she says. “More attention is needed to help prevent these infectious diseases that cause great devastation. Vaccines can help play an important role.”
Considered one of the greatest public health success stories in history, vaccines are not just about the past, but about the future of public health, too. For Beth-Ann, working in this area and contributing to new successes are tremendously motivating.
“The work that we do and the effect we can have gets me out of bed in the morning; it inspires me,” says Beth-Ann. “The minute I wake up, I start to think ‘what are the needs, what do we have to get done today, how do we help people around the world?’ Working in neglected disease areas just magnifies that, if you will, just knowing how many hundreds and thousands and millions of people around the world we can have an impact on.”
While she’s found inspiration in many people over the years, right now, she is inspired by the amazing efforts ongoing in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in response to the Ebola outbreak.
“The people who are on the ground trying to make a difference and putting their own lives on the line — it just fills me with awe and admiration,” she says.
It also highlights the important role vaccines play in protecting our global community, a community that has become increasingly interconnected.
“By working to protect groups of people around the world, we help protect everybody,” she says.
So, Beth-Ann will continue to wake up thinking about the big questions and pushing herself and her dedicated research colleagues to look beyond themselves for solutions to health challenges around the world.
“My dream – and, I think the dream of everyone in this business and the public health arena — is to actually contribute to a product or to an effort that makes a difference in preventing infectious disease and, hopefully, to save lives,” says Beth-Ann. “I will be thrilled if I’m able to do that.”