Major boost for Oxford’s mission to counter future pandemic threats
Thursday 19th May 2022, 12.23pm
The generous donation will drive forward several core research strands, provide support for doctoral students and secure the future of a number of academic leadership posts at the institute, which was established in 2021 to consolidate Oxford’s world-leading pandemic science activity.
A total alignment of values and interests
Led by Professor Sir Peter Horby, the Pandemic Sciences Institute (PSI) seeks to unite disciplines and sectors in order to build agile, equitable partnerships that can tackle complex problems and respond to pandemic threats at any time. To do this, the institute harnesses the strong global collaborations that Oxford has developed over more than forty years, as well as those built in record time between academia, industry and public health bodies during the coronavirus pandemic.
It was the ‘total alignment of values and interests’ that first drew the foundation’s attention to the PSI, says CEO Peggy Moh. ‘There are two tracks in our mission to empower individuals to reach their full potential: education and healthcare. With work in the US, China and now Southeast Asia, we take a global perspective on things. And when we saw how the institute is designed, with global consideration, collaboration and an emphasis in non-profit making, we thought it a very admirable organisation that we could foresee supporting.’
The Moh Family Foundation was established by furniture industry entrepreneur Laurence Moh and his wife Celia, with the aim of enabling others to benefit from the transformative power of education. Today the foundation is led by the couple’s son and daughter-in-law, Michael and Peggy, who carry forward their vision by prioritising integrity, entrepreneurship, innovation and investment in people.
Pandemic research: a silent hero
A core focus of the foundation’s support for the PSI is the work of Professor Sir Peter Horby, the inaugural director of the institute and Professor of Emerging Infectious Diseases and Global Health. Sir Peter has over 20 years’ experience of leading research on a wide range of emerging and epidemic infections, including SARS-I, avian influenza, Ebola, Lassa fever and plague. He has also played a crucial role in the global effort to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, including co-leading the internationally acclaimed RECOVERY trial.
‘Peter is the leading professor in his field,’ says Peggy. ‘Before COVID-19, research into pandemic threats was sort of like a silent hero, but now people are paying attention and it’s important that the health threats that Peter and his team are studying, for example Nipah virus disease and Lassa fever – epidemic diseases that don’t have treatments or vaccines – continue to be studied so that they can be tamed.’
The Moh Family Foundation has committed considerable support to Sir Peter’s research on emerging infections, as well as to securing the future of his professorship through endowment. ‘What we hope to convey is our belief in supporting the leader of the institution,’ says Peggy. ‘I think that’s core, and also helps the institution build up capacity. Funding the work is important of course, but if the leader is overstretched, they cannot bring out the best of the institution they lead.’
Giving back to society
As well as securing Sir Peter’s post, the foundation has also endowed in perpetuity a professorship in infectious disease epidemiology. This post is currently held by Professor Christophe Fraser, whose work focuses on understanding and controlling the transmission of epidemic-prone infectious diseases. In addition, the Moh Family Foundation has agreed to support a new research partnership between the PSI and Singapore, aimed at bolstering capabilities in Southeast Asia to prevent and respond to health threats, as well as the PSI’s ‘trust and confidence’ research theme, which explores ways to strengthen societal and political engagement, resilience and responsiveness.
As part of the foundation’s holistic approach to supporting the work of the PSI, it is also enabling the creation of five new DPhil scholarships at the institute. Talented postgraduate students drive forward scientific progress at Oxford, and these generous funding packages will enable the very brightest from around the world to study critical research themes related to pandemic preparedness, emerging infectious diseases and significant global health challenges.
This aspect of the gift in particular circles back to the foundation’s original founding vision, says Peggy: ‘When my in-laws started getting involved with charity, they had a desire to allow others to benefit from education. This was very important because my father-in-law, who grew up in China and lived in Shanghai, had the opportunity to go abroad for graduate school. That had a profound impact on his career and life, and so when he had the means and opportunity to give back to society, that was the path he took.’
Using science to make the world a safer place
‘This gift from the Moh Family Foundation is absolutely transformative,’ says Professor Sir Peter Horby. ‘At the Pandemic Science Institute, we believe that regardless of where you were born or live, or the level of your income or education, everyone has an equal right to the health and social benefits that science can offer. The Moh family share these values and their generosity empowers us to develop and apply the very best science to make the world a safer place for everyone.’
Reflecting on the foundation’s gift to the Pandemic Sciences Institute, Peggy says that their overarching aim is to kickstart a sustainable process that will allow the PSI to develop, attract talent, grow its reach and expand other capabilities. Finally, she adds: ‘We also hope to demonstrate to other philanthropists that they too can make a meaningful contribution – even without a background in science or biomedicine.’