IDCRC Investigator Profile: Anna Wald, MD


Dr. Anna Wald is the head of the Division of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a professor of medicine (allergy and infectious diseases), epidemiology, and laboratory medicine and pathology at the University of Washington. She co-directs the University of Washington’s Virology Research Clinic alongside Christine Johnston, MD, MPH, and is a co-PI of the University of Washington Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Unit (VTEU), together with Scott McCllelland, MD, MPH. Her research focuses on sexually transmitted infections, especially HSV and HPV, with an emphasis on natural history and the development of novel antivirals and candidate vaccines.

How long have you worked with a VTEU?

The University of Washington received their VTEU parent grant in December 2019, and of course, our first meeting was the same month as the COVID-19 pandemic started, so we jumped right into the coronavirus vaccine studies. However, I was also a participant in the VTEU a few cycles ago, at which point I had the opportunity to participate in the 2009 pandemic H1N1 influenza A vaccine efforts, as well as in a study evaluating intradermal administration of smallpox vaccine, which turned out to be very relevant to the recent Mpox outbreak.

Briefly describe the IDCRC-supported trials you’ve worked on

Our VTEU has participated in the Novavax Phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine trial, the COVAIL trial, the Mix and Match study, the Gritstone Phase 1 trial, and the Sanofi Phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine trial. The first spring of the pandemic, we were also a site for ACTT1 which resulted in authorization of remdesivir for hospitalized patients with COVID-19. We are currently preparing to launch the Phase 4 Doxy short course trial, which will enroll both at our Seattle site as well as at our affiliated sites in Kenya. We also have the malaria challenge model at our site and are designing another trial to evaluate a potential vaccine construct for malaria.

Of these trials, what has been the most impactful or highlight of the work?

I think the Novavax trial for which Dr. McClelland was the site PI was the most exciting study, as we enrolled almost 500 participants. A key component was our recruitment in communities that were most severely affected by the pandemic yet are less likely to participate in clinical trials. The most important was a collaboration established by Dr. McClelland with the Lummi Nation and the Nooksack Tribe.  However, we also reached out to other communities. For example, we had a recruiter at the local network of clinics that serve the Latino communities, and Helen Stankiewicz-Karita, MD, MS, a native Spanish speaking investigator and an IDCRC mentee was a frequent guest on the local Spanish speaking radio station. And it turns out that when people came to enroll into the clinic, they often got a ride with someone who we then also approached about participation in the trial. 

As our clinic has been predominantly focused on sexually transmitted infection, it was a shift to focus on respiratory pathogens, especially given the extraordinary pace for enrollment. One day we vaccinated 28 participants – a true team effort between the study coordinators, clinicians, pharmacist, and laboratory techs. 

What is a strength or example of the importance of the IDCRC during the pandemic and beyond?

Many new products that appear promising lack financial backing for development. So, I see the role of IDCRC as moving potential new therapies or vaccines closer to patients, especially in the areas that pharmaceutical industry tends to neglect, such as vaccines and therapies for sexually transmitted infections. In the last several years, relatively few new therapeutics in infectious diseases have become available. As such, IDCRC plays a critical role in evaluating potential new products for further development. 

What do you like to do outside of the VTEU?

Outside of the VTEU, I serve as the PI for STD and AIDS Research Training Grant, which gives me an opportunity to interact with infectious diseases and postdoctoral fellows as well as graduate students. I also participate in the University of Washington/Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center CFAR developmental core where I have the opportunity to work with trainees. In the past, I received the K24 Mentor Award which allowed me to have protected time for mentoring and to improve my mentoring skills. Training the next generation of clinical researchers is the most meaningful activity that I am involved in.