UCI professor wins prestigious robert koch prize for groundbreaking research

Philip Felgner

Philip Felgner, Ph.D., professor in residence of physiology & biophysics at the University of California, Irvine, is one of two scholars to win the prestigious 2022 Robert Koch Prize for fundamental contributions to the transfer of nucleic acids into cells. This pioneering technology for treating infectious diseases played a crucial role in developing the messenger RNA COVID-19 vaccines.

“This award is a great honor that I share with my team in appreciation of their dedication and commitment over the years,” said Felgner, who directs UCI’s Vaccine Research and Development Center. “Messenger RNA technology holds great promise for creating preventive vaccines that will help avoid future pandemics and fight HIV and other infectious diseases. It also offers possibilities for treating cancer and Alzheimer’s disease and correcting genetic disorders such as sickle cell disease.”

He will share the prize with Dr. Drew Weissman, a professor in the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine.

In announcing the prize recipients, the Robert Koch Foundation cited Felgner’s work in “the development of lipofection, a technology in which active ingredients are packaged in so-called liposomes, i.e., surrounded by a membrane that resembles the cell membrane. On contact with a cell, the membranes of the liposome and the cell fuse. This is how the active ingredient is introduced into the cell. … Liposome technology is not only the basis of modern mRNA vaccines, but also widely used in basic research and is a key technology in medicine for introducing active substances into cells.”

Felgner said, “For many years, hundreds of motivated scientists stayed committed to the belief that one day nucleic acid vaccines would mature and benefit global health. The lipid nanoparticle mRNA vaccines are a realization of that dream.”

The $130,000 (120,000 euros) prize is one of the most important scientific research awards in Germany. It will be bestowed during a formal ceremony Nov. 11 at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, in Berlin. The event, which begins at 4:30 p.m. Central European Time, will be streamed on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/company/robert-koch-stiftung and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/RKStiftung.

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