2021 Albany Prize Recipients Named TIME Heroes of the Year

Left to right: Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, Katalin Karikó, PhD, and Barney Graham, MD, PhD light a candle

TIME magazine has named four vaccine scientists, including the three recipients of this year’s Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research, the 2021 “Heroes of the Year”.

Albany Prize awardees Barney Graham, MD, PhD, Katalin Karikó, PhD, and Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, along with Kizzmekia Corbett, PhD, were credited by TIME for achieving, “a breakthrough of singular importance, introducing an innovative and highly effective vaccine platform, based on mRNA, that will impact our health and well-being far beyond this pandemic.”

TIME noted that these “miracle workers” were selected, “not only because they gave the world a defense against a pathogen, but also because the manner of that astonishing achievement guards more than our health: they channeled their ambitions to the common good, talked to one another and trusted in facts.”

The $500,000 Albany Prize has been awarded annually since 2001 to those who have altered and positively impacted the course of medical research. In 2020, the program paused due to the pandemic.

Dr. Graham, who retired in August, is former deputy director of the Vaccine Research Center and chief, Viral Pathogenesis Laboratory at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health. He was awarded the Albany Prize for his research investigating optimal immunogen structure to induce potent neutralizing responses.

Dr. Karikó is senior vice president, RNA Protein Replacement Therapies BioNTech SE, and adjunct professor of Neurosurgery, the Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Weissman is the Roberts Family Professor of Vaccine Research, also at the Perelman School of Medicine. They received the Albany Prize for research focusing on the modification of nucleic acids to develop RNA therapeutics and vaccines.

They were honored at a ceremony in Albany in September.

“We are proud to be among those who have honored the expertise of these exceptional scientists, whose decades of research and dedication led to critical roles in accelerating the development of two mRNA Covid-19 vaccines,” said Vincent P. Verdile, MD, ’84, the Lynne and Mark Groban, MD ’67 Distinguished Dean of Albany Medical College and chair of the Albany Prize National Selection Committee. “They exemplify the Albany Prize legacy to honor scientists whose work has demonstrated significant outcomes for the betterment of humankind.”