Chen Wei: A Pioneer in COVID-19 Vaccine Research, Development

March 7, 2020
Editor: Daisy

Chen Wei, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering and researcher at the Institute of Military Medical Sciences of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Academy of Military Sciences, has demonstrated her combined bravery and professionalism by taking part in the arduous battle against the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) on the front line in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak and capital of Central China's Hubei Province.

Working out Well-Considered Plans for the Worse-Case Scenario

Chen, also a junior general of the PLA, headed a team of medical workers from the Institute of Military Medical Sciences to fly to Wuhan and to support the epidemic prevention and control efforts there on January 26, the second day of the 2020 Chinese Lunar New Year.

According to Chen, the success of the counter-epidemic battle relies on early discovery, isolation, diagnosis and treatment. Therefore, she and her teammates completed the trial operation of their medical facilities, engaged in the detection of suspected cases, and started research and development into potential vaccines on the first day of their arrival in Wuhan.

Their mobile laboratory made of connected tents was put into operation on January 30. As of that day, they had successfully produced their own test kits for the novel coronavirus, which greatly reduced the time of nucleic acid tests for the confirmation of suspected cases.

"The epidemic outbreak is a command. The virus-affected areas will automatically become the battlefield of military personnel," Chen said in an interview with CCTV (China Central Television).

Chen stressed that she has full confidence in winning the battle against the COVID-19 outbreak since she accumulated rich experience and practice in the fight against the Ebola virus in West Africa from 2013-2014 and the country has been equipped with more talented medical personnel, better scientific research environment and technological support than ever before.

Speaking in another interview with China Science Daily, Chen responded to the concern of all people over the research and development of vaccines at the current moment.

Chen explained that research and development (R&D) processes for all vaccines have their own periods and rules and that great efforts should be made to explore the biological traits of the novel coronavirus, clarify where it comes from and how it spreads, and conduct research on susceptible members of the population.

It is unrealistic to make potential vaccines available in the market in a month, Chen said. She cautioned the public, saying that the turning point of the COVID-19 disease is perhaps coming soon but the possibility of recurrence of the epidemic still remains.

Therefore, it is necessary to plan for the worst and make the full preparation for a long-term fight against the disease, she emphasized.

Combining Personal Dream with National Development

Chen comes from Lanxi, a city in East China's Zhejiang Province. She continued with her academic studies for a master's degree in chemical engineering at Tsinghua University when she graduated from Zhejiang University in 1988.

Instead of accepting an offer with lucrative salaries from a well-known biopharmaceutical firm in southern China, Chen chose to go to the Institute of Military Medical Sciences in 1991 against the opposition of many people when she graduated from Tsinghua University in 1991.

Chen later explained that the achievement she has made today is closely related to the hard-made choice at that time. She went on to say that personal development can be fully realized and personal talent can be fully shown when someone chooses a career closely connected with the development of a nation.

Chen and her team spent over 10 years conducting research on and producing recombinant vaccines, which have since been added to national strategic reserve. Such scientific achievement has further consolidated her position as a leading figure in the field.

Being Prepared to Accept All Kinds of Challenges

When asked about how could she endure loneliness and hardship in her decade-long laboratory life, Chen replied that the strong sense of mission and responsibility of a soldier, and love for work, has helped her overcome all difficulties and problems in the process.

Chen volunteered to go the most dangerous places and courageously rose to challenges when the epidemic of the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) broke out in 2003 and Wenchuan of Southwest China's Sichuan Province suffered huge losses of human life and property in a devastating earthquake in 2008.

She played an important role in the epidemic prevention and control work in the entire process of two major events.

Chen often said to others that as a military scientific worker, she should always be prepared to engage in the next battle and be good at taking preemptive actions in scientific research.

To further accelerate the R&D of vaccines against the Ebola virus in 2014, Chen led a team to fly to West Africa, held face-to-face contact with infected patients, and conducted clinical trials over the contagious disease.

Later, they successfully produced the first type of genetic vaccine against the Ebola virus in the world, published the findings of their scientific research in top international medical journal Lancet, and received high acclaims from foreign counterparts.

Secret to Personal Success

Chen has been working on the interdisciplinary scientific research of bio-security and the cultivation of comprehensive talents with expertise in automation, information security and engineering mechanics since there are more scientific innovations waiting for them to achieve.

Over the past decades, Chen has received many national awards and titles in recognition of her remarkable achievement in scientific research. Chen said the understanding and support from her family have contributed a lot to her success as well.

She also chooses to downplay her gender in the workplace whilst underscoring it at home to better balance herself between work and family life.

"There is no secret to the hard-earned success except the possession of a determined mind and proper methods in the accomplishment of one thing," Chen said.


(Source: China Women's News/Translated and edited by Women of China)

Please understand that,a non-profit, information-communication website, cannot reach every writer before using articles and images. For copyright issues, please contact us by emailing: The articles published and opinions expressed on this website represent the opinions of writers and are not necessarily shared by