Five days before Joe Biden was sworn in as U.S. president, he sent a letter to Eric Lander, the mathematician-turned-geneticist who was founding director of the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “Even as we work urgently to overcome the coronavirus pandemic,” Biden wrote, “we must learn from this moment by grappling with the challenges, inequities, and opportunities we’ve seen in order to better prepare for the future.” What, the president-elect asked, did Lander think the U.S. should do to better prepare for forthcoming pandemics?
Within a month, Lander was working on a plan. No stranger to the White House, Lander was a key figure in the Human Genome Project and was later tapped in 2009 to serve as co-chair of the President Barack Obama’s science advisory council. Taking leave from the Broad, he was also named Biden’s science adviser, the first time a president created such cabinet-level position.