Malik Peiris was the first to isolate the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus that caused international alarm when it emerged in South China in 2002–2003. His expertise in human disease caused by animal viruses encompasses viral evolution, transmission, mechanisms of infection and the immune response of human hosts.
Working in Hong Kong on pandemic diseases with a high mortality rate such as bird flu (H5N1), swine flu (H1N1) and SARS, Malik has been at the centre of surveillance and rapid-response programmes. His original insights into bird flu include the potentially fatal ‘cytokine storm’ that follows human infection, and the recombinant origin of the virus.
His many advisory roles include membership of the WHO Expert Panel on Emerging Infectious Diseases. Malik is the first Sri Lankan to be elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, and has also been awarded the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur of France and the Silver Bauhinia Star of Hong Kong.