Dr. Pieter Cullis, a professor in UBC’s department of biochemistry and molecular biology, has been awarded the inaugural VinFuture Grand Prize alongside peers Drs. Katalin Kariko and Drew Weissman. The award recognizes the trio’s work on mRNA technology that paved the way for effective COVID-19 vaccines.
Over the course of several decades, Dr. Cullis and colleagues at his UBC-based lab developed the lipid nanoparticle technology that is used to protect mRNA and deliver it safely to target cells in the body. At the same time, Drs. Kariko and Weissman made fundamental contributions that enabled mRNA to be used as vaccines. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, these two pieces of work came together to enable the rapid development of effective vaccines.
The three scientists received the award from Vietnam’s Prime Minister, Mr. Pham Minh Chinh, at a ceremony held on January 20, 2022. The ceremony was broadcast live in Vietnam.
“I am grateful for this international recognition of the research conducted over 40 years in my UBC laboratory and in UBC spin-offs such as Inex Pharmaceuticals and Acuitas Therapeutics. It is a particular honour to share this prize with Drs Kariko and Weismann,” said Dr. Cullis. “I am especially pleased that this award is helping to spotlight the cutting-edge role of Canadian science in the development of nanomedicines—the medicines of the future.”
“This award is helping to spotlight the cutting-edge role of Canadian science in the development of nanomedicines—the medicines of the future.”
Dr. Pieter Cullis
The $3 million VinFuture Grand Prize is the first global sci-tech award from Vietnam. It was established to recognize breakthrough research and technological innovations which positively improve the quality of human life and create a more equitable and sustainable world for future generations. The prize is awarded by the VinFuture Foundation, founded by Vietnamese businessman Mr. Pham Nhat Vuong.
“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,” said Sir Richard Friend, VinFuture Prize Council Chair. “The winners have brought new solutions for some of the most significant challenges that humanity is facing.”
Drs. Cullis, Kariko and Weissman were chosen from among almost 600 international nominees by a rigorous process adjudicated by awards committees consisting of globally recognized scientists.
In November 2021, the three scientists were jointly honoured for their role in mRNA vaccines with the Prince Mahidol Award, an international award created by the Thai Royal Family to recognize outstanding achievements in medicine and public health.
Dr. Cullis is the former director of UBC’s Life Sciences Institute and the founding scientific director of Canada’s NanoMedicines Innovation Network (NMIN). He has founded several companies to commercialize technologies developed in his laboratory, including UBC spin-off Acuitas Pharmaceuticals, based in Vancouver.
Watch the ceremony below (Grand Prize awarded at approximately 1h30min mark):
A version of this story originally appears on the NMIN website.