Julie Harvard Statement

I dream of leading a healthcare organization through our next public health crisis. After ten years in genetics, oncology, and immunology, I landed in the center of the chaos as a project manager for the Infectious Diseases Research team at Moderna. However, today's health crises are so complex that even a job at Moderna is insufficient to prevent the next pandemic. Earning a Ph.D. from Harvard's School of Public Health is the bridge I need to lead an organization and save multiple lives.

While Moderna is in the news daily– a buzzword for innovation and achievement, my experience with disease began in 2003 when my mother was diagnosed with early-stage Kidney Cancer. When Cancer enters your life, time stops; I will never forget how cold, angry, and alone I felt when my mother was diagnosed. Thankfully, she underwent surgery and recovered because the Cancer was in the early stage, but I walked around in a frozen panic until they removed it.

I had never felt so paralyzed and trapped in my life. And that was only the beginning: My maternal grandma died of breast cancer, and her brother died of lung cancer. My paternal grandmother was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer, and my paternal grandpa died of gastric Cancer.

In 2003, the same year my mother was diagnosed with kidney cancer, the Human Genome project was completed, which inspired me to become a biology major. I believed scientists would soon disclose the genomic magic, which might answer my question about getting Cancer, preventing disease, or unleashing cures. I wanted to be a part of meaningful discoveries bigger than myself.

  1. Please describe your most significant professional experience and why it prepares you to pursue the Ph.D. program in public health.

As a Program Manager in Infectious Diseases Research of Moderna, daily, I am at the center of discovery, contributing my knowledge in R & D and Omic data analysis, such as genomics. The mRNA vaccines created a new era in vaccinology. Dr. Galit Alter joined Moderna from Harvard Medical School to accelerate vaccine development and revolutionize mRNA therapeutics. She will establish a powerful immunology platform to integrate studies from drug discovery, clinical research, and real-world data.

As Program Manager, I will play an essential role in this strategic plan. As an R&D program manager, I directly assist scientific directors and drive project strategy to align project goals and organizational vision. I am the link between our R&D team and internal collaborators from other departments, external collaborators, universities, and other organizations.

In addition to working on the mRNA vaccine, I am a Program Manager for an exciting new possibility: a vaccine for Lyme Disease. The Program's name is Lyme mRNA Vaccine Program.

Lyme disease, caused by the bacterial spirochete genus Borrelia, is the most common tick-borne infection in the US and Europe. The most reported tick-borne disease in US and EU accounts for 63% of all vector-borne diseases and 82% of tick-borne infections.

In the US, each year, approximately 476,000 Americans (the data from CDC) are diagnosed and treated for Lyme disease. Lyme disease symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, and a characteristic skin rash called erythema migraines.

Infection can spread to the joints, heart, and nervous system without prompt treatment, causing neurological abnormalities and arthritis. Approximately 5-20% of patients may have chronic symptoms after getting Lyme disease, often quite disabling.

Currently, there is no Lyme vaccine available on the market.  In 2015, Lyme disease cost the US health system $1.3B a year.

Our Program Goal: The final vaccine candidate will protect individuals aged ≥12 years old against asymptomatic infection and symptomatic Lyme disease.

Current Outcomes: Our mRNA vaccine candidate elicits antibodies specific for the four major Borrelia species causing disease in US and Europe: Borrelia burgdorferi, afzelii, bavariensis, and garinii. In a comparison of studies in mice and rats, our vaccine has shown higher efficacy than other vaccine candidates.

We are preparing for the Investigational New Drug Application (IND). IND is a request from a clinical study sponsor to obtain authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to administer an investigational drug or biological product to humans. In other words, we are working on the preparation of clinical trials.

My ultimate goal is to save lives. To accomplish this goal, I will use my experience as a Program Manager at Moderna for the mRNA vaccine and the Lyme vaccine as a starting point for the Ph.D. program.  Ultimately, I plan to lead a healthcare organization to integrate data from discovery, preclinical or clinical studies, social media, insurance claims, billing wearables, etc. This disparate data gathered from other sources will give us a more comprehensive understanding of health status.

  1. Provide a reflection on your current leadership abilities and describe what you seek to strengthen in your work through the DrPH program.

The best leaders in the biopharmaceutical industry are strategic visionaries with empathy, creativity, and innovation to achieve sustainable growth. I have a solid base of leadership experience. However, I have much to learn about articulating a broad vision, overcoming obstacles, and working with diverse and often opposing ideas and forces. Harvard's School of Public Health is the best place to advance my academic training in public health and master skills in leadership.

Across all functional areas, including legal, finance, manufacturing, and supply chain, I ensure smooth integration toward our program goals. I am responsible for drafting legal documents, work plans, and timelines and supporting communication between all parties on a project.

My position puts me in regular contact with every level at Moderna, so I have a unique vantage point. I grew up in China and know how difficult it is to adjust to a foreign culture, but my experience is an asset today. Intuitively, I know how to be culturally sensitive. This sensitivity is why I succeed as a team leader; I am mindful of difficulties with semantics and different approaches to solving conflict.

Quarterly, I host program meetings with higher leadership, such as the Chief Scientific Officer and Vice Presidents, Directors, core team scientists from R&D, and collaborators from clinical, manufacturing, and other departments at Moderna. Monthly, I manage meetings with middle directors and collaborators from other departments. Additionally, I hold one-to-one weekly or biweekly meetings with the R&D leader for a particular program.

  1. Tell us about a public health problem or challenge that you seek to address as part of your studies in the program and or upon your completion of your DrPH degree program.

My undergraduate thesis was on the Genome-Wide Linkage Analysis in a Family with SMA. During my research, I grew very close to this family, and my passion for curing genetic diseases was born. Soon after, I joined a genetics lab at Peking University, conducting experiments and data analysis on human population genetics. Uncovering genes associated with cardiovascular diseases was thrilling!

Over the years, my fascination with SMA intensified. In 2017, I read a newspaper article on gene therapy: the article profiled three-year-old Ellyn, who had Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA.) In the photo, Elly was laughing and dancing in the living room. However, her older sister Josephine (with the same disease) died at 15 months old. At eight weeks old, Evelyn received gene therapy treatment that gave her body a crucial missing protein. Evelyn's story inspired me to commercialize these advanced technologies. Therefore, I decided to move from academia to industry.

Although I was immersed in my work, the dark shadow of Cancer kept following me. In 2016, My maternal uncle died of pancreatic Cancer. I wondered when, not if, I would get Cancer.

I wanted answers, so I decided to study oncology genetics. I became a lab manager, conducting experiments and analyzing data at NAME, an oncology genetic lab; we learned how cellular heterogeneity and plasticity contribute to patient tumor properties through single-cell RNA sequencing and next-generation sequencing. In other words, we profiled cells in tumors to figure out how immune cells work in tumors to find treatments for cancer patients.

For the past 11 years, I have met all my challenges in biomedicine and am poised for the next step. The DrPH program at Harvard's School of Public Health will prepare me to save lives, attack entrenched disease.  I look forward to our journey together!

College Essay