James Merson, Ph.D., is Senior Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer of the Vaccine Immunotherapeutics Research Unit, which is based in San Diego and is a member of Pfizer’s Vaccine Research and Development group. He is accountable for developing both prophylactic vaccines for the prevention of infectious diseases and therapeutic vaccines combined with immunomodulators for the treatment of multiple cancer indications, cardiovascular disease, smoking cessation and allergic asthma.
Prior to his current role, Dr. Merson was CSO of the Vaccine Research Unit and responsible for determining what investments Pfizer would make to establish a vaccines business, which lead to the acquisition of PowderMed in 2006 for their DNA vaccine technology, Coley Pharmaceuticals in 2008 for their TLR9 adjuvants, and a strategic collaboration with Cytos for their Qβ antigen delivery platform.
Dr. Merson joined Pfizer in Sandwich, UK, in 1988 leading the HIV protease project and establishing anti-HIV screening capabilities. As head of the Antivirals therapeutic area, his research saw the discovery of HIV antiviral medicines such as Maraviroc and Lersivirine, and a novel inhibitor for HCV, filibuvir. His research interests also focused on the discovery of novel inhibitors for herpes simplex, Cytomegalovirus, papillomavirus and influenza infections. Leading Pfizer’s first efforts into gene therapy with Immusol, Dr. Merson and his team researched the treatment of HIV by making patients’ cells resistant to the infection through the gene transfer of anti-HIV ribozymes.
Dr. Merson received his B.A. in Biology from Bellarmine College, Louisville, Kentucky and his Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology from Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas. He is a member of the BSI, ISV, and is an adjunct professor at the Scripps Research Institute.