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Dr. Claudia Emerson

Director, Institute on Ethics & Policy for Innovation
Professor, Department of Philosophy
Associate Member, Department of Medicine

Head shot of Claudia Emerson

Dr. Claudia Emerson’s work considers complex ethics issues and policy gaps in global health research. She has been working with international stakeholders in the field for over fifteen years examining issues that arise along the discovery-to-delivery pathway for health technologies and interventions. She is especially interested in ethics issues related to the introduction and adoption of novel technologies, the management of infectious disease, and data ethics and governance.

A longstanding grantee of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), Dr. Emerson is the Principal Investigator of an applied ethics research and consulting program that works across the Foundation’s Global Health Division. She is also the Principal Investigator of a research program funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).

After completing her first degree in biochemistry, Dr. Emerson travelled extensively, which spurred her interest in bioethics as it relates to medicine and technology. This led her to complete graduate studies (MA, PhD) in Philosophy at McMaster University, and postdoctoral work at the University of Toronto. As a senior scientist with the McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health, the Sandra Rotman Centre in the University Health Network, and the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, Dr. Emerson worked with colleagues on an ethics research program funded by BMGF’s first “Grand Challenges in Global Health” initiative. In 2015, she returned to McMaster and set up the Program on Ethics & Policy for Innovation, an evolution of the Program initially created in Toronto. McMaster University launched the Institute on Ethics & Policy for Innovation (IEPI) in 2016. Dr. Emerson is the Institute’s founding Director, leading a multidisciplinary team of experts in bioethics, epidemiology, public health, law, anthropology, and philosophy.

Dr. Emerson serves in many advisory capacities related to public health and innovation, and most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic response. She frequently advises the World Health Organization (WHO) and is a member of several of its Working Groups having recently developed guidance on the Responsible Use of the Life Sciences (forthcoming), Ethical Conduct of Controlled Human Infection Studies (2022), and Key Criteria for the Ethical Acceptability of COVID-19 Human Challenge Studies (2020).  She was also a member of the Core Working Group that authored the Guidance Framework for Testing Genetically Modified Mosquitoes (2nd Edition, 2021).  Dr. Emerson serves on the ELSI (Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications) Panel for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Programs that address evolving pathogenic and viral threats: PREEMPT (Preventing Emerging Pathogenic Threats) and INTERCEPT (Interfering and Co-evolving Prevention and Therapy).

Dr. Emerson is co-developer of ‘ESC (Ethical, Social and Cultural) Thinking’, the practical approach she applies in her work, and is currently developing an ESC toolkit for teaching. She is a member of McMaster University’s Global Nexus for Pandemics and Biological Threats, an international initiative launched in September 2020.

Dr. Emerson holds a BSc in Biochemistry from the University of Guelph, and a BA, MA, and PhD in Philosophy from McMaster University.

Dr. Emerson's Publications