Rachel Fearns, PhD, Named Chair-Elect of Virology, Immunology & Microbiology

Headshot of Rachel Fearns, PhDRachel Fearns, PhD, has been named chair of the department of virology, immunology & microbiology, effective Feb. 1, 2024. Current Chair Ron Corley, PhD, announced in June his intention to step down when his successor was named.

Dr. Fearns received her doctorate in virology from St. Andrews University, UK. After her postdoctoral training in the Laboratory of Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, Dr. Fearns held a faculty position at the University of Dundee, UK, and then joined BU as an assistant professor in 2007. She was promoted to associate professor in 2011 and to professor in 2020.

Dr. Fearns’ research focuses on understanding the transcription and replication mechanisms of non-segmented negative strand RNA viruses. Much of her work has focused on respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), but recently her laboratory’s interests have expanded to include other respiratory pathogens, including human metapneumovirus and parainfluenza virus type 3.  She also works on emerging pathogens including Ebola, Marburg and Nipah viruses.

In addition to pursuing basic research questions, Dr. Fearns collaborates extensively with the pharmaceutical industry to determine mechanism of action of small molecule polymerase inhibitors. Over the last decade she has worked collaboratively with Alios BioPharma, Janssen Sciences, AstraZeneca, Gilead, Merck, Enanta Pharmaceuticals and Roche. Dr. Fearns has received research funding from multiple funding agencies in the UK and US, and has published in high-impact journals, including Nature, PNAS and EMBO Journal.

Dr. Fearns is a long-standing member of the Academic Policy Committee and serves as chair of Anatomy & Neurobiology Chair Search Committee. She served as the course director for Concepts in Virology and director of graduate studies for the Microbiology Program and on many other committees during her tenure at BU.

She is an editor for PLoS Pathogens and MBio and has been a member of the editorial boards of Virology and Journal of General Virology, in addition to reviewing manuscripts for multiple other journals. She also served as a standing member of the NIH Viral Pathogenesis and Immunity study section, and a reviewer for grant funding agencies in the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland and New Zealand.