This year's Science Award of the Industrie-Club Düsseldorf in cooperation with the North Rhine-Westphalian Academy of Sciences and Arts will be presented to Dr. Henning Grüll and Dr. Dr. Philipp Schommers of the Institute of Virology and Clinic I for Internal Medicine of the Faculty of Medicine and the University Hospital Cologne. The two physicians and scientists are being honored for their outstanding research on the human immune response to viral infectious agents.
The prize was awarded on May 19, 2022 during a ceremony at the Düsseldorf Industrie-Club. The laudation was held by Univ.-Prof. Dr. Florian Klein, Director of the Institute of Virology and of the Faculty of Medicine and the University Hospital of Cologne.
For the past two years, the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has been a powerful reminder of the devastating potential of infectious diseases on public health and everyday life. In contrast to the rapid development of effective vaccines against COVID-19, such a vaccine is not available despite four decades of intensive research against HIV. Meanwhile, 36 million people have died as a result of HIV infection, and 1.5 million new HIV infections continue to occur worldwide each year. The development of new and effective methods for the treatment and prevention of viral infectious diseases is therefore of particular importance. In addition to the direct investigation of disease-causing viruses, a detailed understanding of human antiviral immunity plays a key role in this.
In Prof. Klein's research group associacted with the Center for Molecular Medicine Cologne (CMMC), Dr. Grüll and Dr. Dr. Schommers are deciphering the antibody response to viral infections in order to develop therapeutic and preventive options based on the knowledge gained. The focus of the two scientists is on the investigation of so-called broadly neutralizing antibodies against HIV, which are characterized by high activity against the numerous variants of HIV. In their pioneering work, the researchers succeeded in demonstrating the therapeutic effect of such antibodies in clinical trials and in identifying new antibodies with outstanding characteristics. For example, the two scientists discovered and characterized an antibody called "1-18", which is one of the strongest antibodies directed against HIV. Due to its special property of effectively suppressing the development of viral mutations and associated resistance, the antibody "1-18" is a particularly promising candidate for clinical development for the prevention and therapy of HIV infection.
The approaches established in the course of research on HIV also made it possible to gain detailed knowledge of immunity to SARS-CoV-2 in a timely manner. Among other things, the scientists were able to demonstrate the importance of booster vaccinations for immunity against the omicron variant at a very early stage and contributed to the identification of highly effective antibodies against SARS-CoV-2. Reflecting the immediate practical relevance of this research, one such antibody is being investigated for therapeutic use in several independently conducted clinical trials.
The Science Award
The Science Prize, sponsored by Industrie-Club Düsseldorf , is awarded annually in cooperation with the North Rhine-Westphalian Academy of Sciences and Arts to young scientists from various disciplines who are no older than 35 and have a recognizable NRW connection. The prize, endowed with 20,000 EUR, is intended to promote practice-relevant and application-oriented research in the state, the results of which can provide an innovative impetus for industry. In 2022, the science prize, which is being awarded for the 22nd time, was announced in the field of "Medicine and Life Sciences".
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