Secretary of State Antony Blinken toured Pitt’s Center for Vaccine Research

On a Sept. 30, 2021, visit to the University of Pittsburgh, Secretary of State Antony Blinken praised Pitt scientists for contributing to the fight against COVID-19.

“Biomedical research is key to protecting public health, including reducing the risk of future pandemics. Thank you to the team at @PittTweet Biomedical Research Facility for saving lives and improving American health security,” he tweeted after the visit.

Blinken, in Pittsburgh to attend the inaugural Trade and Technology Council meetings with the European Union, met with Chancellor Patrick Gallagher and Anantha Shekhar, senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and the John and Gertrude Petersen Dean of the School of Medicine, to discuss Pitt’s cutting-edge research into live virus mitigation.

“If we’ve learned anything during the last 18 months, it’s that we can’t ignore the threat of emerging infectious diseases,” Gallagher said. “The University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Vaccine Research is uniquely positioned to tackle this challenge, and it complements a deep bench of talented Pitt scientists, clinicians and scholars that is pushing the frontiers of this research forward every day.”

“The visit by the Secretary of State underscores the key role played by researchers at Pitt’s Center for Vaccine Research in the response to COVID-19 pandemic and in ensuring that we stay prepared for future pandemics,” Shekhar said.

Antony Blinken, Patrick Gallagher and Anantha Shekhar speaking at the Center for Vaccine Research
Antony Blinken in speaking with people in lab
Antony Blinken walking with Paul Duprex in CVR
Blinken in suit speaking with people in lab

After the talks, Blinken toured Pitt’s Center for Vaccine Research (CVR), which is working to develop new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines for infectious agents such as SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19. The lab uses a negative air pressure system to keep contaminated air from flowing in or out. In order to work in the lab, scientists like CVR member Sham Nambulli (pictured at top) wear full bodysuits fitted with personal air tanks. During his visit, Blinken used a walkie-talkie to communicate with Nambulli through protective glass.

Director of the CVR and Jonas Salk Chair for Vaccine Research Paul Duprex led Blinken through Pitt’s high-tech biomedical research facility — which houses the only lab in Pennsylvania designated a Regional Biocontainment Laboratory. Duprex’s team is studying human clinical samples as well as animal models to learn about the different organ systems that respond to the virus. They’re also working to understand how different vaccine approaches could mitigate the body’s response to coronaviruses.

William Klimstra, associate professor of microbiology and molecular genetics and member of the CVR, noted on the tour that Chancellor Gallagher was an early proponent of the center’s work, long before the pandemic.

“He's supported the center quite generously in the very early days. The center hadn't established any outside connections in the middle. We were one of the first labs to get a sample of the coronavirus during that critical phase. He provided grants from the University directly to the center.”

After his visit to Pitt, Blinken met with local labor leaders to discuss the goals and outcomes of the Trade and Technology Council and heard their perspectives on issues such as workforce development, green technology and the digital economy.

As part of the council, Blinken and Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo met with other local leaders including Mayor Bill Peduto and Argo AI CEO, Pitt trustee and alumnus Bryan Salesky (ENGR ’02).


— Nichole Faina