For more than 40 years Rao has studied viruses and how they can be used to develop vaccines. He is currently researching the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) and working to conduct possible vaccine tests on animal models.
Watching the new coronavirus initially spread in China, Rao saw how hard it was to contain and predicted it would become a global problem. He went to administrators at Catholic University to devise a plan to help the international research effort to create a vaccine.
Rao's research on bacteriophage T4, a benign virus that infects bacteria, helped produce a platform with which to develop vaccines for diseases such as cancer and HIV. In 2018, he published a paper on a dual vaccine he developed "to protect against simultaneous anthrax and plague infections," and his work was published and profiled in a number of outlets including Newsweek.
What makes his platform unique, he said, is that "we can engineer the ability to incorporate multiple components" for "more effective immune responses." Most coronavirus vaccines focus on only one component, he said, which may not be sufficient for full immune protection.
After Rao approached the university's administration, the provost and other administrators came up with the initiative to release Rao's technology patents to deliver vaccines.
On March 23, Catholic University announced it would be offering royalty-free licenses on patents for Rao's work on the bacteriophage T4 virus platform and vaccine delivery systems. Eligible recipients can either make use of Rao's vaccine candidates or use their own technology in combination with his platform.