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Dr. James Cummings – Why the Move to Vaxart?

6 min read

Dr. James Cummings, Vaxart CMO’s most recent position was as President of ICON Government and Public Health Solutions, formally known as Clinical IRM, a wholly owned subsidiary of ICON, plc. 

So, who is ICON?  ICON says they offer a full range of consulting, clinical development and commercialization services from a global network of offices in 46 countries. They have approximately 37,960 employees working in 150 locations as of Sep 20, 2021. One of the services they provide is as a CRO or Clinical Research Organization, specializing in the planning, management, execution, and analysis of Phase 2-3 clinical trials.

With extensive experience supporting over 200 clinical vaccine trials in over 40 countries worldwide, ICON is building a legacy in supporting global public health, and is recognized as a qualified provider for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

ICON has recently won a host of awards:

“Best Contract Research Organization” of 2021 during the 17th Annual Scrip Awards ceremony on 2 December. They were also named “One of the World’s Best Employers for 2021 by global media company Forbes. ICON represented the only CRO to make the list in a crowded field of more than 30 companies in the Drugs and Biotechnology category.

Earlier in the year, ICON was also ranked in Forbes’ list of 2021 Best Employers for Diversity. In November, ICON was named the Best Irish Company in France by The France Ireland Chamber of Commerce and NetworkIrlande.

Also in November, ICON colleagues in China were awarded a Best Wellbeing Practice Award by multinational professional services firm Aon.

In October, ICON was named Clinical Research Company of the Year in PharmaTimes’ Clinical Researcher of the Year 2021 – Americas competition.

The list goes on and on.

So, with a look back on one’s career,” President of ICON” during a world wide pandemic and helping bring critical drugs to market could be seen as one’s crowning achievement.

So why the move to a small Biotech company in the Bay area?

Vaxart investors believe he is in search of what many people refer to as the Holy Grail of vaccines – Vaxart’s COVID Pill Vaccine.

Before we get in to that more on Dr. Cummings.

From The University of Scranton –

Prior to joining ICON Government and Public Health Solutions, Dr. Cummings served as Vice President of Clinical Development and Translational Medicine at Novavax, Inc., in Gaithersburg, MD. There he led the development programs for all Emerging and Re-Emerging Infectious Diseases, to include human and veterinary vaccine development and polyclonal human antibody development, as part of a “One-Health” response to emerging pathogens, to provide a timely, broad response across the spectrum of emerging infectious diseases.

Colonel (Retired) Cummings enjoyed a 26-year career in the U.S. Army with a proven track record in vaccine, drug and diagnostics development, most recently as Director of the Department of Defense (DoD) Global Emerging Infectious Diseases Surveillance and Response Systems (DoD GEIS) leading Biosurveillance for the US DoD with laboratories and partners in 71 countries, along with serving as the Consultant to the Surgeon General for all medical research and development. While at Walter Reed Army Research Institute of Research (WRAIR), he directed the comprehensive translational medicine research division within the WRAIR and DoD, and served as director of the clinical trials center in DoD, and was Chief of Overseas Vaccine Development for WRAIR’s Department of Immunology, Division of CD&I. A graduate of Georgetown University’s School of Medicine, Dr. Cummings trained in Internal Medicine and Infectious Diseases Fellowships at Walter Reed and the National Capital Consortium and has been elected to fellow in the American College of Physicians (FACP), the Infectious Diseases Society of America (FIDSA) and the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (FASTMH).”

Dr. Cummings has over 35 peer-reviewed publications, several book chapters and has recently been a member of numerous national committees and editorial boards including: the U.S. Interagency Task Force on Anti-Microbial Resistance (ITFAR), the U.S. Secretary of Defense’s Working Group on Ebola Response, multiple World Health Organization (WHO) working groups, the ASTMH’s “Benjamin H. Kean Travel Fellowship in Tropical Medicine” committee, the executive committee of the Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick, Lackawanna County, PA, and on the board of directors for “Enspice,” a non-profit organization dedicated to improving nutrition for children in low to middle income countries.

So again, why the move to a small Biotech company in the Bay area? What could be more vital or important to the global health arena than continuing his critical work with ICON?

As Cummings’ career has been focused on surveilling and responding to global pandemics, I don’t believe he would pivot from that goal at this point, especially with the COVID pandemic continuing to wreak havoc on the world and showing no signs of slowing.

With that being said, here are the potential reasons why Vaxart appealed to Cummings. He understands that in order to end the pandemic, several issues need to be addressed to arrive at a global solution – issues that haven’t been addressed by first generation vaccines. Here is why Vaxart is suited to resolve these issues:

1) Vaxart’s vaccine is an oral, room temperature stable pill, allowing for rapid deployment worldwide, addressing distribution issues and inequities, and alleviating the need for medical professionals.

2) Vaxart’s pill was developed to be cross-reactive, offering broad and durable protection against variants.

3) The pill form will achieve better saturation because it addresses vaccine hesitancy, as well as fear of needles which impacts roughly 25% of the U.S. population.

4) Vaxart’s pill provides mucosal immunity, something none of the first generation vaccines do. Mucosal immunity is the first line of defense against getting infected with the virus, it reduces shedding of the virus and slows transmission.

5) Vaxart’s pill offers a green solution, it cuts down on tons of medical waste associated with administering shots.

Dr. Cummings’ move to Vaxart should be seen as a positive to investors. We believe he sees Vaxart as an opportunity to solve the global COVID crisis.

Well, we’re not mind readers, so about the best we can do is to look at the actions taken in the past and attempt to detect this doctor’s motivation.  In the case of Dr. Cummings, we have enough history to reach a predictable conclusion. From the base of the Hippocratic Oath, to and through a career of medical and scientific research, it should be pretty obvious that for him, it was the right thing to do.  It’s not just anyone who possesses, the training, the experience, the expertise, and the vision to make such a leap. 
Dr. Cummings was perfectly placed to make that leap, even knowing full well what obstacles lay ahead.  Still, he realized that the efforts being made to deal with a global pandemic had the built-in impediments inherent with large cumbersome organizations.  Recognizing such difficulties and the awareness that the course of treatment being pursued was not addressing the true source of the issue and that such huge “ships” take forever to change course seems to have been motivation enough.  The current efforts are laudable in that the urgency of a global health crisis dictate immediate actions.  Given the scientific knowledge available, the organizational structures already in place and the international politics, it was pretty clear which direction and which drug companies would be tasked to provide an expeditious solution…and they did.  However, the solution is a short-term one resulting in several monumental and disturbing issues. 
From a medical standpoint, the pandemic is creating another endemic situation that will require constant timely manipulation of vaccines.  The problems with this approach are overwhelming.  The costs, the distribution, the global social inequities, the waste of contaminated facial bandages piling up in the landfills, on the streets and shopping mall parking lots are but a few of the most obvious. The average person on the street has little choice but to fall in line with the national health guidance and directives or buck them at even greater risks.  There is a better way.  A safer, long-term way.  There’s a greener way.  A way that reduces the fear of injections and deals with the administration of the remedy in a familiar everyday manner.  Like the medications most of us take, like the food we eat, it’s what we do with minimal fear and anxiety.  We don’t need strangers sticking needles in our arms.  Dr. Cummings and Vaxart know this.   
So, why would someone of Dr. Cummings knowledge and background do what he has done.  We’re not mind readers, so we can’t say with certainty, but we should be able to place a good bet as to why.         H.Harrison

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1 thought on “Dr. James Cummings – Why the Move to Vaxart?

  1. What a fantastic read! Great Job, Thank you! Vaxart has pulled together one incredibly Impressive Team. Welcome aboard Dr James Cummings.

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