Key notes

  • Vanessa Harris
    Key Note Speaker
    Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development (AIGHD)

    Dr. Vanessa Harris is an infectious disease physician and researcher at the Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development (AIGHD) and the Amsterdam Health and Technology Institute (AHTI). She obtained her bachelor’s degree summa cum laude at Amherst College in the United States and then obtained her MD from Harvard Medical School.  She is a Fulbright Scholar and Netherlands-America Fellow. She subsequently completed her internal medicine residency and infectious disease fellowship at the Academic Medical Center at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

    Her research focuses on understanding the determinants of the diminished efficacy of the rotavirus vaccine in developing countries. She is particularly interested in potential interactions between the infant intestinal microbiome and the rotavirus vaccines. She explores this hypothesis through mouse models, human volunteer studies, and clinical trials.  She currently is living in Shenzhen, China where she is an honorary clinical consultant at the Hong Kong University-Shenzhen hospital and establishing new academic research collaborations. 

    Keynote title: "The microbiome and response to vaccination"

  • Mahesh Kumar
    Key Note Speaker

    Mahesh Kumar received his Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry from India.  He moved to the United States to pursue his post-graduate education in Microbiology.  He obtained his Master of Science degree from the University of Maine and his Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota in 1990. After graduation, Dr. Kumar was hired by Maine Biological Laboratories in R&D. During his tenure at Maine Biological Labs, he developed several key products including live and inactivated Salmonella vaccines and the bursal tissue origin line of infectious bursal disease virus containing vaccines among others.  After 7 years at MBL where he was the Head of R&D and Regulatory Affairs, he moved to Fort Dodge Animal Health.

    At Fort Dodge, he led the global poultry research and development activities licensing several key products for the food safety, hatchery and breeder segments. Notable vaccines developed by Dr. Kumar are E. coli and avian influenza including a global approval for use against  the Asian H5N1 strain. He has several publications in avian health and is an inventor or co-inventor on several patents.

    In 2007, he moved to the Netherlands to head the regional technical office responsible for EuAfME approvals of pharmaceutical and biological products for all species.  He was also part of the regional management team providing guidance and diligence on all technical R&D issues.

    After the merger with Pfizer, Dr. Kumar was appointed to lead a new line dedicated to biologics research in animal health based in Kalamazoo, Michigan. In 2013, Pfizer spun off the animal health division as Zoetis where he currently serves as the Vice President of Global Biologics and Diagnostics R&D responsible for the development of biologics and diagnostics for all species including vaccines against emerging infectious diseases.

    Key note title: “Rational Design – An Approach to Better Vaccines”


  • Mariagrazia Pizza
    Key Note Speaker

    Dr. Mariagrazia Pizza is Senior Scientific Director at GSK Vaccines, Siena, Italy.

     Mariagrazia has worked as scientist and project leader on different bacterial vaccine projects. She has contributed to the design and development of nontoxic derivatives of pertussis toxin, E.coli heat-labile toxin and cholera toxin , by genetic engineering. The research on pertussis led to the discovery of a genetically detoxified pertussis toxin, devoid of toxicity but highly immunogenic, which has been the basis of a new vaccine against pertussis, licensed for immunization in infants. The new genetically detoxified derivatives of heat labile E. coli toxin (LT) and cholera toxin were shown to be powerful vaccine antigens and adjuvants. More recently, she has contributed to the discovery and licensure of a vaccine against Neisseria meningitidis Serogroup B, based on the innovative approach of  “reverse vaccinology”. The new MenB vaccine has recently been licensed for use in adolescents and infants in 38 countries worldwide. During her career she has received many scientific awards, is member of EMBO, of the European Academy of Microbiology, Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology and Vice President of IUMS. She is co-author of over 180 publications in international peer-reviewed journals, and over 150 patents.

    Keynote title: "Novel approaches to bacterial vaccine development"

  • Jan Tommassen
    Key Note Speaker
    Utrecht University

    Jan Tommassen is professor in prokaryotic microbiology at Utrecht University. He studied biology and chemistry at the same university. After his graduation in 1978, he did his Ph.D. in 1982 in the field of molecular microbiology. Since 1984, he is leading a group studying the cell envelope of Gram-negative bacteria. He was appointed as professor in prokaryotic microbiology in 2001. Current research interests include biogenesis of outer membrane proteins and lipopolysaccharides, structure and function of outer membrane proteins, protein secretion, vaccine development, and antibiotic resistance.

    Professor Jan Tommassen is project leader of the Bac Vactory program. He will present the Bac-Vactory program, aimed at the development of bacterial vaccine technology for use in future human and animal vaccines.

    Key note title: "Launch of Bac-Vactory program"

  • Koen Venema
    Key Note Speaker
    Maastricht University

    Prof. Dr. Koen Venema is i) Professor at University Maastricht - campus Venlo, ii) founder and CEO of the company Beneficial Microbes Consultancy, iii) the organizer of the Beneficial Microbe Conference-series, and iv) editor-in-chief of Beneficial Microbes.

    Dr. Venema studied Chemistry at the University of Groningen, The Netherlands in 1990. He received his PhD in Natural Sciences from the same university, on the antimicrobial activity of bacteriocins produced by lactic acid bacteria (LAB) in 1995. He pursued the health-beneficial activity of these microbes as a Post-Doc at North Carolina State University, Raleigh, USA, where he studied the potential of LAB to function as carrier for vaccines. Thereafter, in 1998 he was employed by TNO for > 15 years, where he used the sophisticated, dynamic, computer-controlled in vitro models of the gastro-intestinal tract developed by TNO (nick-named TIM) to study the effect of functional foods and drugs on bioavailability and effects on the colonic microbiota.

    Within TNO he has led many multi-disciplinary projects on health of the host (e.g. gut health, inflammatory disease, allergy, obesity) and the role of probiotics and the gut microbiota in these diseases and disorders. In the period 2004-2009 he has been project leader within the Public Private Partnership TI Food & Nutrition, of which TNO is a partner. Within this multidisciplinary project his research was devoted to the effect of the activity of the microbiota on gut health and obesity using, amongst others, the TNO in vitro models. From January 2011 – Dec 2014 he was project leader within TIFN of a new project "Interaction of probiotics and prebiotics with the host", which looked at the interaction of fibers and probiotics with the immune system of the host. Since Sept. 01, 2014 he runs a newly established research group at the University Maastricht – campus Venlo, where the focus is on the health beneficial effects of the gut microbiota on the host, and where he continues to use the TNO in vitro models.

    Key note title: "Use of validated, dynamic in vitro models of the GI tract to combat infectious diseases, develop alternatives for antibiotics, and prevent (multiple) antibiotic resistance of members of the gut microbiota"