Professor 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), Professor 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, Professor 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. Professor Emerson is the Institute’s founding Director, leading a multidisciplinary team of experts in bioethics, epidemiology, public health, law, anthropology, and philosophy.
Professor 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). Professor 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).
Professor 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.
Professor 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
WHO guidance on the ethical conduct of controlled human infection studies
IEPI's Director, Dr. Claudia Emerson, contributed to the international guidelines on the ethical conduct of controlled human infection studies.
Key criteria for the ethical acceptability of COVID-19 human challenge studies: Report of a WHO Working Group
Jamrozik E, Littler K, Bull S, Emerson C, et al (2021) Key criteria for the ethical acceptability of COVID-19 human challenge studies: Report of a WHO Working Group. Vaccine. 9(4); doi.org/10.1016.vaccine.2020.10.075
Core commitments for field trials of gene drive organisms
Long KC, Alphey L, Annas GJ, Bloss CS, Campbell J, Emerson C et al (2020) Core commitments for field trials of gene drive organisms. Science 370 (16523):1417
Ethics of controlled human infection to address COVID-19
Shah S, Miller F, Darton T, Duenas D, Emerson C, et al (2020) Ethics of controlled human infection to address COVID-19. Science. 368(6493). 832-834. DOI: 10.1126/science.abc1076
Guidance on Stakeholder Engagement Practices to Inform the Development of Area-Wide Vector Control Methods
Thizy D, Emerson C, Gibbs J, Hartley S, et al (2019). Guidance on Stakeholder Engagement Practices to Inform the Development of Area-Wide Vector Control Methods. PLOS Neglected Trop Dis. 13(4):e0007286. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pntd.0007286
Pathway to Deployment of Gene Drive Mosquitoes as a Potential Biocontrol Tool for Elimination of Malaria in Sub-Saharan Africa: Recommendations of a Scientific Working Group
James S, Collins FH, Welkhoff PA, Emerson C, Godfray HCJ, Gottlieb M, et al (2018) Pathway to Deployment of Gene Drive Mosquitoes as a Potential Biocontrol Tool for Elimination of Malaria in Sub-Saharan Africa: Recommendations of a Scientific Working Group. Am J Trop Med Hyg 98(Suppl 6): 1-49. DOI: 10.4269/ajtmh.18-0083
Principles for Sponsors and Supporters of Gene Drive Research
Emerson C, James S, Littler K, Randazzo F. (2017) Principles for Sponsors and Supporters of Gene Drive Research. Science 358 (6367):1135.
Collaborative Effort for a Centralized Worldwide Tuberculosis Relational Sequencing Data Platform
Starks AM, Aviles E, Cirillo DM, Denkinger CM, Dolinger DL, Emerson C, Gallarda J, et al (2015) Collaborative Effort for a Centralized Worldwide Tuberculosis Relational Sequencing Data Platform. Clin Infect Dis 61(S3):S141.