Sean Whelan, PhD


Dr. Sean P. J. Whelan is the Chair of the Department of Molecular Microbiology and the Marvin A. Brennecke Distinguished Professor, at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.  Dr. Whelan received his B.Sc. degree in Microbiology and Biochemistry, from the University of Birmingham, and a Ph.D. in Molecular Virology from the University of Reading. Following post-doctoral training at the University of Alabama at Birmingham he started his own laboratory at Harvard Medical School and in 2011 was promoted to the rank of Professor. Whelan is an internationally renowned expert on non-segmented negative-sense RNA viruses. He joined Washington University in Saint Louis in 2020 in his current role as Chair.

He is a member of the American Academy of Microbiology, an Editor of Fields Virology, Virology, PLoS Pathogens and serves on the editorial board of Journal of Virology. He pioneered reverse genetic approaches to manipulate the genome of vesicular stomatitis virus - this work led to the field domesticating the virus as a vaccine vector and oncolytic agent and one licensed human vaccine against Ebola has been developed using this technology. Whelan’s group used this genetic system to develop biosafety level 2 reporter viruses against 80 viral pathogens including several biosafety level 3 and 4 emerging viruses.  Using those viruses, his laboratory identified the cellular receptors for Ebola, Lassa, and Lujo viruses and for the endogenous human retrovirus, HERV-K.  Whelan’s group also pioneered structural studies of the replication machinery of non-segmented negative-strand RNA viruses using negative-stain electron microscopy and electron cyromicrosopy – where he solved the atomic structures of vesicular stomatitis virus and rabies virus polymerases. Most recently Whelan’s group has built upon the VSV platform approach developing a BSL2 reporter of SARS-CoV-2 entry and neutralization by antibodies and receptors. Whelan’s group has advanced this VSV-SARS-CoV-2 vector as a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 demonstrating efficacy in animal models of disease.

More team members

Andrew Fradkin, JD
General Counsel
Walter Greenblatt, MBA
Chief Financial Officer
Mike McGinnis, MS, MBA
Head of Government Relations
Anne Moscona, MD
Ruth Karron, MD
Matteo Porotto, PhD
Elma Hawkins, PhD, MBA
Chairwoman of the Board
Fred Hayden, MD
Joan Fusco, PhD
Chief Development Officer
Tom Monath, MD
Chief Medical Officer
Allen Duplantier, PhD
Principal investigator
Daniel Graifman, MBA