Professor Piero Olliaro
Professor of Poverty Related Infectious Diseases
The background to my professorship in poverty-related infectious diseases lies in the 25 years spent with the Special Programme for Research & Training in Tropical Diseases of the World Health Organization –during which I lead programmes from basic to implementation research on malaria, tuberculosis, and neglected tropical diseases–, including a 17-year visiting professorship with NTM and the Newton-Abraham Professorship in 2014-2015.
I have now joined ISARIC (the International Severe Acute Respiratory and Emerging Infection Consortium) as Director of Science. Our programme primarily aims to accelerate clinical research to prevent illness and deaths from epidemic infectious diseases. While the range of diseases covered is potentially wide, my work currently focusses primarily on plague, Lassa fever, and monkeypox.
One of the features these otherwise very diverse diseases share is the lack of established clinical research methodologies and evidence-based treatments. For instance, for plague –a disease known to have affected humans since the Neolithic and caused hundreds of million deaths– there are cheap, relatively simple treatments, but none has been established based on a randomised clinical trial, the golden standard of medical evidence. For the next three years we will be enrolling patients in a trial in rural Madagascar comparing two regimens for treating plague. If successful it will be the first evidence-based treatment for plague.
Another major area of work for me currently is antimicrobial resistance, whilst also continuing work on other poverty-related infectious diseases such as leishmaniasis, schistosomiasis, soil-transmitted helminthiases, and dengue.
My professional career is shaped by the principle that medical research needs to be public health-driven, and that research capacity strengthening in disease-endemic countries is an integral part of it.