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mahmoud
Photo courtesy of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

Dr. Adel Mahmoud, known for his leadership in biopharmaceutical research and development, died on Monday, June 11, of a brain hemorrhage at Mt. Sinai St. Luke’s Hospital in Manhattan. He was 76 years old.

An innovator in the world of vaccines, Mahmoud was known for his focus on saving lives and his consistent empathy. After creating better and more widely available vaccines with Merck Vaccines and Case Western Reserve University’s department of medicine, he would go on to join the University as a professor, brightening the days of colleagues and students alike.

Mahmoud served as president of Merck Vaccines, a position he held until from 1998 to 2006. Mahmoud led the development and commercialization of vaccines to prevent severe gastroenteritis, human papillomavirus and shingles, as well as the quadrivalent formulation of measles-mumps-rubella-varicella vaccine.

Mahmoud came to the University in 2007 as a senior policy analyst at the Wilson School. In 2011 he became a lecturer with the rank of professor in the molecular biology department and the Wilson School.

Those who worked with Mahmoud described him as a joy to interact with, someone who not only worked effectively and efficiently but also accomplished everything he did with kindness.

“As a colleague, what was amazing, was that he was so accomplished and so warm,” said Janet Currie GS ’88, director of the Wilson School’s Center for Health and Wellbeing, who worked with Mahmoud on a weekly basis. “He got the work done in the most pleasant possible way.”

Currie said Mahmoud was a true humanitarian. He always encouraged pharmaceutical companies to do research that would save lives instead of focusing on ventures that may have been slightly more profitable.

Currie said that Mahmoud’s role as president of many different companies, combined with his position as a professor at the University, was unprecedented. This duality was one of the truest testaments to what a remarkable leader and person he was, Currie said.

During his tenure at Merck, Mahmoud met Thomas Shenk, who was on Merck’s board of directors. The two would later work together at the University, co-teaching two courses: MOL 425: Infection — Biology, Burden, Policy; and GHP 400: Seminar in Global Health & Health Policy.

“I found it great fun to design the two courses with him that we taught together,” Shenk said.

Much of Mahmoud’s work at the University focused on advising students in the Global Health Program, a certificate program under the Center for Health and Wellbeing. According to Currie, he did so on a very personal level, not only helping students figure out what they needed to do for current projects, but also helping them figure out what they could do more broadly, later in life.

“Adel was a remarkably effective and caring teacher at Princeton. The students responded very positively to him,” Shenk said. “On many occasions, a student would tell me ‘Professor Mahmoud is absolutely amazing.’”

Michael Kochis ’15, who worked with Mahmoud through the Global Health Program, said that Mahmoud always took pleasure in the little things. Kochis recalled how at a dinner party for seniors at his home, Mahmoud took joy in having his favorite baklava shipped from across the country specifically for the occasion.

Kochis also recalled how Mahmoud did an excellent job of looking at topics in new ways.

“The importance of analyzing an issue from numerous angles was a theme throughout his role as my professor and thesis advisor, and one that continues to frame how I think about and navigate the world today,” Kochis wrote in an email statement to The Daily Princetonian.

Helena Hengelbrok ’16 also interacted with Mahmoud as part of the Global Health Program. She said she was thoroughly impressed by his passion for both the program and the students within it.

“He was clearly a brilliant scholar and I remember that he never shied away from pushing students to think critically about their research plans and to be proactive in our work and thesis writing,” Hengelbrok wrote in an email.

According to Shenk, Mahmoud’s work with the Global Health Program was perhaps his most significant success at the University. Shenk said the program does a terrific job of introducing health policy to students at the undergraduate level.

Shenk also said that Mahmoud’s expertise was incredible. He said that he learned so much from talking to Mahmoud about the development, availability, possibilities, and limits of vaccines. 

“Nobody knew more than he did,” Shenk said.

Mahmoud was born in Cairo in 1941 and received his M.D. from the University of Cairo in 1963. During his time as a medical student, he also involved himself in politics, serving as a leader in former Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser’s youth movement.

In 1968, Mahmoud left for Britain, where he earned his Ph.D. from the University of London’s School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in 1971. In 1973, he emigrated to the United States, where he conducted research as a postdoctoral fellow at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. After some years as an instructor and professor at Case Western Reserve, he became the chief of the university’s division of geographic medicine in 1977. He chaired school’s department of medicine from 1987 to 1998.

More recently, in 2014, Mahmoud advocated for the creation of a global vaccine development fund after the Ebola outbreaks in West Africa.

Those who knew him said Mahmoud’s time at the University undoubtedly influenced them for the better.

“Our students were fortunate to benefit from his amazing, deep and varied expertise in global health, as well as his enthusiasm and deep humanity,” Currie wrote in an email to the ‘Prince’. “He will be sorely missed.”

Mahmoud is survived by his wife of 25 years, Dr. Sally Hodder, as well as his stepson, his sister, and his brother.

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