PHILADELPHIA – The Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania today announced the establishment of the Roberts Family Professorship in Vaccine Research and the Katalin Karikó Fellowship Fund in Vaccine Development, providing a foundation for discoveries that will forge a new frontier in vaccine-based treatments, cures, and prevention strategies for an array of diseases.
The endowed chair and fellowship funds were created through a gift from the Aileen and Brian Roberts Foundation, underscoring the Roberts family’s strong support of Penn Medicine and their passion for cutting-edge healthcare.
Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, has been named the inaugural Roberts Family Professor in Vaccine Research. Both the professorship and fellowship honor mRNA trailblazers Weissman and Katalin Karikó, PhD, an adjunct professor of Neurosurgery at Penn and a senior vice president at BioNTech. Their partnership and foundational research at Penn created a blueprint for the development of the historic COVID-19 mRNA vaccines now being deployed to combat the virus across the globe.
Designed to champion young scientists in the early years of their careers, the Katalin Karikó Fellowship Fund in Vaccine Development will provide financial support to a fellowship in vaccine research in the Penn Institute for Immunology, to be awarded to an inaugural recipient later this year. Both the professorship and the fellowship will support research aimed at creating vaccines for other infectious diseases and further cement Penn as a home for mRNA research and other novel vaccine-based approaches.
“The Roberts family has been an exceptional partner in Penn Medicine’s quest to investigate bold approaches that support our vision for the future of health care,” said J. Larry Jameson, MD, PhD, executive vice president of the University of Pennsylvania for the Health System and the dean of the Perelman School of Medicine. “Drs. Weissman and Kariko’s work laid a foundation that ensured our world was prepared to meet the unprecedented challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic. Their groundbreaking science has inspired the world and now, buoyed by the Roberts family’s tremendous generosity, it has sparked an ambitious research agenda that we are excited to see unfold in the fight against many other infectious diseases and even conditions like cancer.”
“Penn has long been at the forefront of cutting-edge research and technology advancements, and its discovery of RNA-based vaccines is another incredible achievement for the institution and the city of Philadelphia. Drs. Weissman and Kariko’s unwavering commitment to and passion for scientific discovery is astounding,” said Aileen and Brian Roberts. “It is our family’s privilege to support the life-changing research conducted at Penn and we are eager to see how the next generation of scientists and physicians work to accelerate the development of the advanced therapies of the future.”
Weissman and his team are already working on a new vaccine to target the broader class of coronaviruses — knowing that even after this current pandemic wanes, other coronaviruses worldwide will continue to pose serious threats. To fight the COVID-19 pandemic that is still uncontrolled in many parts of the world, Weissman and his team are working with Chulalongkorn University in Thailand to help them generate an mRNA vaccine that will be specially dedicated to preventing COVID-19 in middle-to-low-income countries. Dr. Weissman is also at work to use the mRNA platform to create vaccines against other widespread and serious diseases, including influenza, genital herpes, HIV, and malaria.
Penn Medicine is one of the world’s leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, excellence in patient care, and community service. The organization consists of the University of Pennsylvania Health System and Penn’s Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine, founded in 1765 as the nation’s first medical school.
The Perelman School of Medicine is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $550 million awarded in the 2022 fiscal year. Home to a proud history of “firsts” in medicine, Penn Medicine teams have pioneered discoveries and innovations that have shaped modern medicine, including recent breakthroughs such as CAR T cell therapy for cancer and the mRNA technology used in COVID-19 vaccines.
The University of Pennsylvania Health System’s patient care facilities stretch from the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania to the New Jersey shore. These include the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, Chester County Hospital, Lancaster General Health, Penn Medicine Princeton Health, and Pennsylvania Hospital—the nation’s first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional facilities and enterprises include Good Shepherd Penn Partners, Penn Medicine at Home, Lancaster Behavioral Health Hospital, and Princeton House Behavioral Health, among others.
Penn Medicine is an $11.1 billion enterprise powered by more than 49,000 talented faculty and staff.