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The monster and the scientists

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As he looks at a three dimensional computer model of a molecule that has consumed him for months, Hans describes the virus with great respect as a monster, the monster:

“This little monster is responsible for the infection, and this structure shows us how it can infect and how it can multiply. We’re talking about diseases that can just travel. It’s gets in your body, and it easily attaches itself to you.”

Hanneke has been obsessed with how viruses work since she was in college.

“I thought, this is something that needs to be solved. We need to understand, how can a virus make people so ill? I was fascinated.”

Maria, Benoit; they are leaders of global teams having great impact on HIV, Ebola, TB, and a virus called RSV that is one of the most common killers of young children.

Hans Langedijk.
Hanneke Schuitemaker.
Maria Grazia Pau.
Benoit Callendret.

They change the perception of what you expect to see of a scientist. They are all scientists at Johnson & Johnson, yet none of these people work in a lab. Their tools are computer models and data. They begin after the lab work is completed, embracing the discovery or the breakthrough and charging forward to make that discovery a real vaccine that can save a life.

Success here is proving it works and getting it into the world on a scale that changes the course of history, that saves communities and families.

Yet they don’t think of their work in that way. They don’t put faces on the disease, even though when in conversation the human impact is clearly understood.

It’s as if thinking of the child living or dying based on their success or failure is too much to process. It wouldn’t allow them to focus on the work.

And so the work is done, and progress is made, one click, one conference call, one advance, one clinical trial, one moment of perseverance or luck. Anything that gets them, and us, closer to the goal.

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