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Meet The Lebanese Heroes Behind The Moderna Vaccine

posted on: Feb 10, 2021

Picture of Lebanese Health Officials
Photo: BlogBaladi

By: Theo Stamatis/Arab America Contributing Writer

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted communities all over the world. It has caused an enormous strain on families and exhausted the efforts of frontline workers who are working to fight back against the virus. Despite the damage that is being done by the pandemic, there is hope as a new vaccine from Moderna that is becoming more available.

Late last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a vaccine from the American pharmaceutical and biotech company, Moderna. The Moderna vaccine is incredibly effective and making its way to pharmacies across the United States and the rest of the world. What many do not know is the team that worked on the Moderna vaccine is predominantly Lebanese and was honored by the Lebanese government with the National Order of Merit.

The Lebanese government honored this team of experts for their tireless effort and achievement in developing the vaccine that is currently saving lives. Here are the 8 Lebanese health professionals who made the Moderna vaccine a reality.

Noubar Afeyan, Co-Founder and Chairman, Moderna

Although he is the son of Armenian parents, Afeyan was born and raised in Beirut, Lebanon. At the age of 13, Afeyan and his family decided to move to Canada from Lebanon due to the civil war unrest. In Canada, Afeyan did his undergraduate studies at McGill University, earning a BS in Chemical Engineering and later, his Ph.D. in Biochemical Engineering from MIT.

Noubar Afeyan has dedicated his professional career to creating science-backed innovations that serve as the foundation for startup companies. At the age of 24, Afeyan founded his first company, Perspective Biosystems, and later would start Flagship Pioneering, a venture capital company focused on biotechnology. Now, he is the cofounder and chairman of Moderna, working to help manufacture the next batches of their vaccine.

His career as an inventor and entrepreneur has resulted in the creating of over 50 science and technology startups. In addition to his commitment toward investing in science, Afeyan has launched several philanthropic projects. The Aurora Humanitarian Initiative that Afeyan launched, raises awareness to the world’s most urgent humanitarian problems. He had the honor of being awarded for several achievements, including the Technology Pioneer Award by the World Economic Forum in 2012.

Marcello Damiani, Chief Digital & Operational Excellence Officer

As Moderna’s Chief Digital and Operational Excellence Officer, Damiani has been instrumental in creating and constructing information technology (IT) solutions for a variety of businesses. With over 20 years of experience in IT, he has been known for his ability to transform a company’s information flow and improve a company’s digitization process. He is an expert in strategizing and implementing programs that spearhead digital landscapes for companies.

He earned a Master of Science (MS) degree in Information Systems Architecture from the University of Toulouse in France and an International Executive MBA through TRIUM which is a coalition of the three top universities in the world: London School of Economics, NYU’s Stern Business School, and the HEC School of Management in Paris. Damiani’s heritage is French Lebanese and his family roots are in northern Lebanon, in the city of Tripoli.

Said Francis, Senior Vice President (VP) for Business Development & Corporate Strategy

Said Francis has been with Moderna for almost 8 years, starting as the Director for Corporate Development. He rose up the ranks and is now currently Moderna’s Senior Vice President for Business Development & Corporate Strategy.

He is from the village Miye Ou Miye in the Sidon District in southern Lebanon. While in Lebanon, he began studying at the Lycée Nahr Ibrahim prior to being admitted to the world’s most accomplished university, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). After graduating from MIT, Francis would later join the Harvard Business School where he received his MBA.

Charbel Haber, Senior VP for Regulatory Affairs

Haber joined Moderna last year as a Senior Vice President of Regulatory Affairs at the peak of the pandemic. His role of responsibility is to build a global regulatory organization and strategy to support Moderna’s efforts in developing the COVID-19 vaccine.

Prior to joining Moderna, Haber worked at Biogen where he served as VP in Global Safety and Regulatory Sciences. He has substantial and extensive knowledge in global regulatory affairs, having worked for companies like Novartis. Haber is also known for leading the regulatory development of the H1N1 vaccine at Novartis during the H1N1 Flu pandemic in 2009.

Haber too has degrees from several prestigious universities; he earned his Master’s in Public Health (MPH) and an MBA from Thomas Jefferson University. He also holds a Ph.D. in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering from John Hopkins University. The proud son of Lebanese parents, Haber is from the village of Bserrine in the Aley District in Central Lebanon.

François Nader, Independent Board Director

François Nader is a biopharmaceutical executive and director with vast experience in development and regulatory affairs. He joined Moderna’s Board of Directors in 2019. Prior to his appointment, Nader was the President, CEO, and Executive Director of NPS Pharmaceuticals where he turned the company into a leading biotechnology company. In addition, he was also a partner at Care Capital, a venture capital firm. In the past, he was Chairman of BioNJ, New Jersey’s biotechnology trade organization.

Nader earned his French Doctorate in Medicine from St. Joseph University in Lebanon and an executive MBA from the University of Tennessee. Nader too was born in Lebanon but left it to continue his education at the age of 25.

Monique Yoakim-Turk, Director of Program and Alliance Management

Monique Yoakim-Turk is currently the Director of Program and Alliance Management at Moderna. Before working at Moderna, Yoakim-Turk spent 17 years at Boston Children’s Hospital, where she evaluated hospital research, intellectual property, and management. In 2009, she helped launch the Boston Children’s Technology Development Fund (TDF), an academic investment fund where she implemented the evaluation process for the initiative.

Yoakim-Turk is from Beirut, Lebanon and was a student at Zahrat El-Ihsan High School before leaving for the U.S. for her Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Science from UMass-Lowell and a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Tufts University.

Joe Sarkis, Associate Director

Sarkis, like Damiani, is also French Lebanese and has been with Moderna for almost 4 years. He started as a Senior Scientist but now serves as the Associate Director for Moderna. When he joined Moderna in 2017, Sarkis became a member of their Biological Science department. He earned his Master of Science from Aix-Marseille Université and a Ph.D. from Université de Rennes before attending Harvard Business School.

Joyce Kfoury Sousa, Moderna Quality Control Manager

As Moderna’s Quality Control Manager, Kfoury Sousa manages a tech transfer team that is responsible for validation, troubleshooting, analytical method acquisition, and more. Her responsibilities as Moderna’s Quality Control Manager also include external tech transfer of analytical methods around the world.

Prior to working at Moderna, Kfoury Sousa served as a Quality Control Supervisor at Celldex Therapeutics and for 10 years worked at Imogen, one of the world’s leading biotech companies. Kfoury Sousa has an exceptional academic record, earning a bachelor’s from Dartmouth, MBA from the University of Phoenix, and a master’s from the University of Rhode Island.

Joyce Kfoury Sousa, like her colleagues above, is the proud daughter of Lebanese parents.

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