April 15, 2020
Venigalla Rao

The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) recognized Venigalla Rao this week as part of National Public Health Week. Along with five other researchers, Rao was featured in a series of profiles of public health professionals on the front lines fighting COVID-19. 

Rao is a biology professor and the Director of Catholic University’s Center for Advanced Training in Cell and Molecular Biology, where he has worked for more than 30 years. His lab examines how microbes, in particular bacteriophage T4, can be used to develop vaccines for diseases such as COVID-19.

Rao told the ASM: "A couple of months ago, it became clear that COVID-19 would likely evolve into a global pandemic and that we must begin work and contribute our T4 knowledge and technology to address this problem. We dropped some of our ongoing projects and directed our resources toward designing vaccine candidates. Our current work uses bacteriophage T4 as a platform for vaccine delivery. Our research is quite broad — in the sense that we collaborate with structural biologists, immunologists and biophysicists — as we try to understand the molecular mechanisms of assembly and genome packaging by bacteriophage T4 and translate some of the basic knowledge to biomedical applications, such as vaccine design and gene therapy. Right now, we are researching the possibility of using T4 as a platform to deliver vaccine candidates that protect against SARS-CoV-2 infection, the virus that causes COVID-19. We hope to generate useful vaccine candidates in the near future to address this very serious coronavirus crisis.”

The University is providing researchers with royalty free access to Rao's patented methods of vaccine delivery to be used to create a COVID-19 vaccine. (UPDATE: The royalty-free license offer mentioned here expired upon the rollout of viable Covid-19 vaccines and is no longer available.  The purpose of the offer was to facilitate the timely development of a vaccine, and that purpose has now been achieved.)

Read the National Public Health Week profiles