Winners of VinFuture’s $4.5m global sci-tech prizes announced


The VinFuture Prize is
aligned with one or more of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and
is grounded in recognising proven, real-life impact


Winners demonstrated
breakthrough innovations in science and technology focused on driving
meaningful and scalable change through improvements in health, prosperity,
productivity, equity, and sustainability


Recipients were
selected from nearly 600 nominations across 60 countries

 

HANOI, VIETNAM – Media OutReach – 21 January 2022 – The inaugural VinFuture Award Ceremony honors inventors
of core mRNA vaccine technology; metal-organic frameworks (MOFs); flexible
semiconductors with the sensing properties of human skin; and tenofovir gel for
the prevention of HIV. These projects are exceptional scientific
accomplishments that will positively impact the lives of billions of people on
Earth in the present and future.

Professor Katalin
Kariko (third from right), Professor Pieter Cullis and Professor Drew Weissman
(first and second from left) win VinFuture Grand Prize

Honouring
exceptional minds whose research and technological innovations will improve
quality of life and ensure sustainable living for future generations, The
VinFuture Prize was launched on International Solidarity Day 2020 and is
uniquely aligned with one or more of the UN Sustainable Development Goals
(SDGs).

The award programme is part of
the VinFuture Foundation, an independent, not-for-profit set up by Mr. Phạm
Nhật Vượng, the first Vietnamese billionaire and Founder and Chairman of the
largest Vietnamese conglomerate, Vingroup Corporate, together with his wife,
Mrs. Phạm Thu Hương, to create meaningful change in the everyday lives of
millions by recognising and rewarding transformative innovation in
sci-tech.

Attracting almost 600 nominations across 60 countries in its inaugural
year, the Prize represents the best in science and technological breakthroughs
in these fields. Of these nominations, nearly 100 came from the world’s top 2%
most-cited scientists, many of whom are themselves laureates of distinguished
awards, such as the Nobel Prize, Breakthrough Prize and Tang Prize, among
others.

The Grand Prize, valued at US$3
million, is awarded to three scientists: Katalin Kariko (USA), Drew Weissman
(USA) and Pieter Cullis (Canada) for their work on mRNA technology
, which
paved the way for effective COVID-19 vaccines. In their research, they were
able to modify mRNA and encapsulate it in lipid nanoparticles, preventing the
immune system from reacting to foreign mRNA entering the body and avoiding
cytokine induction, toxicity, and off-target effects. Based on Kariko and
Weissman’s discovery, and Cullis’s development of lipid nanoparticles,
pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna were able to produce
effective COVID-19 vaccines in record time.

Besides serving as a global line of defense against the increasing
infections and deaths caused by the pandemic, mRNA technology also has the
potential to generate vaccines against HIV, cancer, autoimmune diseases and
genetic diseases, potentially saving the lives of billions of people in the
future.

In addition to the Grand Prize, three Special Prizes, each valued at
US$500,000, have been dedicated specifically for female innovators and to
recognize innovations in emerging fields and in developing countries.

The first Special Prize, dedicated
to “Innovators with Outstanding Achievements in Emerging Fields”, is awarded to
Professor Omar Yaghi (USA) for his work on discovering metal-organic frameworks
(MOFs)
. MOFs are a new class of materials formed as networks of charged
molecules linked to metal ions, with permanent porosity with high surface area
and impressive stability. With tuneable pore sizes that enable the absorption
and storage of gas and water molecules, MOFs provide solutions for the capture,
storage, separation, and chemical manipulation of different types of gases and
particles, and have the potential to create a cleaner environment and cleaner
air, energy, and water sources.

In particular, Professor Yaghi’s MOF water harvester has been proven to
have the potential to generate clean water at any time, in any place. If
successfully implemented, MOFs can improve the lives of millions of people in
regions that lack access to clean water, helping increase water independence
and increase quality of life.

The second Special Prize,
dedicated to “Female Innovators”, is awarded to Professor Zhenan Bao (USA) for
her work on developing flexible electronics with the sensing properties of
human skin.
The electronics are made from a type of flexible molecular
semiconductor material that has self-healing and biodegradable properties,
allowing electronics to be integrated seamlessly into the human body. They have
great potential in medical diagnosis and smart healthcare and can also be
applied to wearable and implantable electronic devices, enhancing the quality
of life of millions of people with disability and sparking future medical
breakthroughs.

Professors Salim
Abdool Karim (second from right) and Professor Quarraisha Abdool Karim (second
from left) win VinFuture Special Prize

The Special Prize, for “Innovators
from Developing Countries”, is awarded to Professors Salim Abdool Karim and
Professor Quarraisha Abdool Karim from South Africa for their research on
effective HIV prevention.
With extensive experience in the field of
epidemiology, the two scientists developed a tenofovir-based gel that prevents
sexual transmission of HIV, laying the foundation for the pre-exposure
prophylaxis (PrEP) method of preventing HIV. Salim Abdool Karim and Quarraisha
Abdool Karim also created an oral medicine to create an HIV prevention strategy
across the world, including for women and infants.

The Karims’ research was recognized by UNAIDS and WHO as a pivotal
scientific breakthrough, with significant impact on the prevention of an
epidemic in the African continent and the world.

Speaking about the results of the inaugural season of the VinFuture
Prize, Professor Sir Richard Friend,
VinFuture Prize Council Chair
, stated:
“The VinFuture Prize 2021 recognizes truly outstanding scientific work that has
made and will make, a positive impact on the lives of millions, or even
billions, of people around the world. The winners have brought new solutions
for some of the most significant challenges that humanity is facing,
such as infectious diseases and meeting the urgent need for zero
carbon energy. The VinFuture Prize celebrates the power of science and
technology to solve global problems.”

On behalf of the Prize Laureates, Professor
Katalin Kariko
shared: “It
is an incredible honor to learn that the Prize council
selected me, together with my fellow scientists Drew
Weissman and Pieter Cullis, to receive
the inaugural VinFuture Grand Prize. We, as
scientists, work at the bench in the laboratory, performing experiments
day-after-day and hope that one day – maybe in our
lifetime – we can witness that the advancements we
made will be beneficial for the common good. We are
all relieved and thrilled that our scientific discoveries laid the
foundation for the development of the mRNA vaccines. It
is also important to note that the vaccines were developed
based on a century of scientific and
technological progress and recent
discoveries by hundreds of thousands of scientists, doctors,
engineers and experts who advanced the
knowledge of their respected fields, and the combination of
that work led to the creation of these very effective and
safe mRNA vaccines. We hope that our scientific
adventure will also inspire the next generation of researchers and doctors,
and that their contributions will advance our scientific knowledge on a higher
level leading to the treatment of patients with unmet medical needs.”

The first VinFuture Award Ceremony was broadcasted live on major
communication channels across the world, with the appearance of Mr. Pham Minh
Chinh, Prime Minister of Vietnam, leaders of domestic ministries and agencies,
global ambassadors, industry leaders, and in particular, eminent international
scientists.

The Award Ceremony signals the end of the first season of the VinFuture
Prize, with results far exceeding the expectations of the Prize Council in
terms of both quantity, quality, and practical application potential of the
nominations. The early success of the Prize lays the foundation for broadening
the Prize’s impact in coming years, recognising scientists who seek and deliver
solutions to humanity’s problems, contributing to creating a better life for
everyone, and building a sustainable environment for future generations./.

Officially starting the second season of the VinFuture Prize

The second cycle of the
VinFuture Prize has now started, immediately following the conclusion of the
inaugural VinFuture Award Ceremony. The VinFuture Foundation will open the
nomination portal from February 15 running until June 3, 2022.

#VinFuturePrize

 

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