Christopher Weiss
Improvements in vaccine safety

Note: Christopher Weiss was a Business Development Fellow in 2017/18. This interview was conducted in fall 2017.

Christopher Weiss is a postdoctoral scholar at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. He received his B.S. and Ph.D. in molecular virology and microbiology from the University of Pittsburgh.

In a nutshell, describe your project or venture.

Making live-attenuated vaccines safer and less error prone.

What’s important about your research or project—and where do you hope to take it?

Live-attenuated vaccines tend to set the standard for vaccine efficacy, but often pose safety concerns that prematurely end clinical trials. Our team is exploring mutagen-resistant viruses as a means to reduce unwanted changes from arising in a live-attenuated vaccine candidate for chikungunya virus. Our goal is to reduce negative outcomes associated with vaccine reversion and improve vaccine candidate safety for chikungunya virus and other RNA viruses for which rational vaccine development has been hindered by safety concerns.

What are you most passionate about in your work?

Disease prevention through widespread vaccination is an incredibly important issue for the state of California and the U.S. in general. With the current rise in the anti-vaccination movement—fueled by pseudoscience and “alternative facts” in this country and abroad—it is incredibly important to maintain vaccination rates for preventable diseases at levels consistent with herd immunity to protect the most vulnerable in our population. Improvements in vaccine safety will not only usher more treatments to market, but also help improve the face of a field currently mired by fallacies and politics. 

What was the most important thing you learned at the Entrepreneurship Academy?

Even the best ideas are destined to fail without the right team to foster them. Networking and assembling the team that’s best able to bring your idea to market is just as, if not more, important than the idea itself.

What is the most unexpected advice you received from a mentor?

Sometimes you’re not the right person to execute your vision. Recognizing this early on, and finding the right person to bring the idea to fruition, is vitally important if you want to see it succeed.

Do you plan to participate in the Big Bang! Business Competition or “just” the workshops? How do you expect this to help you as an aspiring entrepreneur?

I hope to participate in the competition in the future when I have a better foundation for my project.

How will your experiences as a Business Development Fellow help you to change the world?

I would like to continue working on vaccine development, with a focus on neglected diseases around the globe. I hope to gain the skills necessary to bring candidate vaccines out of the laboratory and help them reach their intended market, reducing the disease burden, especially in developing countries.