In Memoriam Dr. Adel Mahmoud

I am sad to tell you that Dr. Adel Mahmoud, a pioneer in preventing and treating diseases throughout the world, died June 11 in New York City. Dr. Mahmoud’s storied career combined academic leadership, research, development, policy, and implementation science, all focused on improving the health and well-being of people around the world. His major contributions to science and public health involve epidemiological, immunological and clinical facets of neglected tropical diseases, notably parasitic infections.

Dr. Mahmoud received his medical degree from the University of Cairo in 1963 and a doctorate in 1971 from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. His early research focused on pioneering studies of the role of eosinophils, a specific type of blood cell that is involved in the defense against and control of schistosomiasis, a debilitating disease caused by a parasitic flatworm that affected millions, most notably children, in Egypt and other countries around the world. Committed to making a difference on a global scale, Mahmoud chose to emigrate to the U.S. in 1973 where he launched his longstanding career at Case Western Reserve University, then the hub of innovation in research on neglected global health diseases. He rapidly rose through the ranks to head the Division of Geographic Medicine and ultimately to chair the Department of Medicine from 1987 to 1998. In the course of his academic career he was elected to ASCI, AAP, and the IOM ( now known as the National Academy of Medicine), and received numerous prizes and honors. With Ken Warren and other collaborators, he wrote and edited the definitive textbooks of tropical diseases, and published landmark papers in the fields of eosinophil biology and schistosomiasis. Dr. Mahmoud was a charismatic mentor to many of today’s leaders in medicine and research.

In 1998, Dr. Mahmoud was recruited to serve as President of Merck Vaccines where he played a pivotal role in developing a new generation of vaccines for adults and children. He was responsible for the development and commercialization of a rotavirus vaccine to help prevent severe gastroenteritis that killed millions of children globally; a human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine to prevent cervical cancer, genital warts, and other related cancers; the first vaccine to help prevent shingles and its painful consequences; and a new formulation of measles-mumps-rubella-varicella vaccine, the current backbone of childhood immunizations. Under Dr. Mahmoud’s leadership, Merck studied these vaccines in people aged 6 weeks to 99 years, and more than 500 million doses of these four vaccines have been distributed around the world as of 2017.

Dr. Mahmoud was one of the earliest directors to lead the Global Alliance for Vaccines & Immunization (now known as the GAVI Alliance), an organization committed to providing access to vaccines in low and middle-income countries He was frequently sought out for scientific advice by national and international organizations including the World Health Organization, the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Academies as well as multiple foundations and academic institutions. In addition, he served as president of the International Society of Infectious Diseases (1990-1992).

Dr. Mahmoud retired from Merck in 2006 to begin yet another career as a Professor at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and the Department of Molecular Biology at Princeton University. He continued his commitment to education while engaging in public policy discussions. He also returned to CWRU as the Chair of the School of Medicine Visiting Committee, where his wit, advice, prodding, genius for problem-solving, and boundless optimism were highly influential and greatly appreciated. In 2017, an endowed chair was created in his honor that bears his name, and awarded to Dr. James Kazura in a ceremony that honored both Dr. Mahmoud the man and his incredible work and worldwide impact on global health and in raising the next generation of global health physicians and scientists. I will miss him terribly. A little of the light in the world has dimmed with his passing.

Dr. Mahmoud is survived by his wife of 25 years, Dr. Sally Hodder, a former faculty member at CWRU and chief resident in medicine, now a Vice Dean for Translational Research at the University of West Virginia, and a son, Jay Thornton.

We will miss him.