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The Lennart Philipson Award


2024 Award

The 2024 Award winner will receive an increased cash prize of €15,000, and the award will be presented as part of the 50th Anniversary two-day scientific symposium

Award Ceremony: Friday 5 July 2024, EMBL ATC Klaus Tschira Auditorium, Heidelberg.

Nominations and applications for the 2025 Lennart Philipson Award are now open.

About the award

The Lennart Philipson Award (LPA) was created to honour EMBL’s second Director General, Lennart Philipson (1982-1993). The award has been given once per annum starting in 2015 by the EMBL Alumni Association. It is sponsored by EMBLEM Technology Transfer GmbH (EMBLEM), the wholly owned commercial subsidiary of EMBL responsible for knowledge and technology transfer.

The Award recognises outstanding and validated contributions in translational research and/or technology innovation across the complete spectrum of life sciences. This includes for example: deciphering human disease models; developing new diagnostic tools, methods or therapies; development of broad enabling technologies in life sciences (plasmids, strains, human disease-relevant animal-models, screening and production systems); instrumentation development; and bioinformatics.

The award is open to all EMBL alumni irrespective of leaving date. It consists of a gold-plated medal, a cash prize of €15,000 and the logistical costs of bringing the winner to EMBL Heidelberg to present a talk at the Award Ceremony on EMBL Lab Day/ World Alumni Day.

Criteria for nominations

The award is open to junior and senior EMBL alumni alike irrespective of when they left EMBL.

The work described in the nomination needs to have predominantly been done by the nominee, either as the “bench scientist” or as principal investigator or entail a personal, scientific contribution in the area recognised by the LPA.

The work can entail results obtained during the nominee’s time at EMBL and/or thereafter.

Other areas to consider when selecting LPA nominations are the breadth of the innovation. New technologies that are taken up by diverse laboratories across a range of research fields would be very strong examples.

These include:

  • PCR,
  • Enhanced gene sequencing,
  • Gene microarrays,
  • Continuing development of improved microscopy,
  • CRISPR / Cas.2. Direct links to societal benefits. The most obvious examples are major contributions to novel drugs to treat previously poorly treated conditions. Examples to illustrate this include:

• Significant contributions to the discovery and development of therapeutic antibodies or other drugs.

Secondary Factors to Distinguish Between Strong but Diverse Applications include

  • Is there secured IPR protection?
  • For therapeutic innovation, is there proof of concept in clinical evaluation?
  • For technology innovation, how has the technology been dispersed? (e.g. has it beenlicensed to an industrial partner? How has the uptake by others been facilitated?)

Please note that joint nominations cannot be considered and if the nomination is unsuccessful in a given year, it can be resubmitted in subsequent years.

EMBL supports fair and responsible research assessment, which includes its alumni awards processes. We recognise a range of research outputs including publications, open data sets, databases, code, software, pre-prints, patents, commercial products, instruments, clinical practice developments, educational products, policy publications, and any other relevant outputs. We discourage inappropriate use of proxies such as journal impact factors, and value research outputs based on their intrinsic merit. EMBL is a signatory of the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA). In light of this, reviewers should be mindful of the range of research outputs presented as part of the review material. Reviewers are required to assess research outputs by their intrinsic merit, and to consider their relevance for the advancement of science. For more details see: https://www.embl.org/info/dora/

How to nominate

Nominations for the 2025 Lennart Philipson Award are now open.

To make a nomination, please complete the nomination form by 30th August 2024. The Alumni Relations team will contact your nominee with further steps.

To self-nominate, please complete the candidate data sheet by 30th September 2024.

List of winners

2024 winner: Giulio Superti-Furga

EMBL: Postdoc then Team Leader, Developmental Biology, 1991 -2004

2024: Scientific Director and Research Group Leader at the Research Centre for Molecular Medicine (CeMM), Vienna.

“When I came to EMBL in 1991, I met Lennart Philipson, a true mentor who would share advice over walks, pipe in hand. EMBL, for me, has been a beacon of inspiration and support. This spirit has driven my work in community building and translational research at Cellzome, CeMM, startups in Vienna, and with EU-LIFE. It’s the backbone of my future projects in Sicily. The joy of discovery and the commitment to making a real impact in precision medicine are legacies of my EMBL experience.”

Announcement of winner: March 2024

2023 winner: Desmond Higgins

EMBL: Group Leader, EMBL-EBI, 1990-1996
2023: Professor of Bioinformatics, University College Dublin, Ireland.

“I spent 35 years working on sequence alignment methods. The environment at EMBL gave me the opportunity to develop this work and to collaborate with Toby Gibson and Julie Thompson to make Clustal W and Clustal X.  It is over 30 years since I first met Lennart Philipson at EMBL and it is a great honour to receive the award.”

Announcement of winner: March 2023

Watch Alumni Awards Ceremony

2022 winner: Sara Courtneidge

EMBL: Group Leader, Developmental Biology, 1985-1994
2022: Professor, Oregon Health and Science University, Portland, USA.

“At EMBL, we studied the Src family of tyrosine kinases, which are cellular oncogenes,” Courtneidge said.  “Wanting to learn and contribute more directly to translational cancer research, I then joined SUGEN, a biotech company focused on defining the kinome, and developing kinases inhibitors. Even when I returned to the non-profit sector, I maintained a commitment to translational research, and also support and advise others in this arena. I am deeply appreciative of the support from EMBL which facilitated my career.”

Announcement of winner: June 2022

Watch Alumni Awards Ceremony

2021 winner: Kenneth Holmes

EMBL: Head of EMBL Hamburg, 1975-1977
2021: Retired, Heidelberg (Former MPI Director)

“We needed a stronger x-ray source that could record a muscle contracting. I had read Julius Schwinger’s work on the theory of Synchrotron Radiation. DESY in Hamburg was setting up such an electron ring. Gerd Rosenbaum and I carried out an experiment at DESY using synchrotron radiation to get diffraction from a muscle specimen. This worked, and we were delighted when Sir John Kendrew and EMBL decided to support the project. DESY encouraged us to set up a bunker (bunker 2) for X-ray experiments on biological samples. Bunker 2 was the beginning of what would become the first EMBL Outstation. It is a great honour to have been presented with the Lennart Philipson award for the work that was carried out by Gerd Rosenbaum and myself 50 years ago in Hamburg.”

Announcement of winner: April 2021

Watch Alumni Awards Ceremony

2020 winner: John van der Oost

EMBL: Postdoc, Saraste Group, Structural and Computational Biology, 1990-1992.
2020: Professor, Wageningen University & Research, Wageningen, the Netherlands

“While studying anti-virus defense strategies of bacteria, my team discovered that CRISPR-Cas and Argonaute systems target DNA, that their specificity can easily be adjusted, and that they can be functionally transplanted to other organisms. This is a beautiful example of the rapid translation of a bacterial genetics project to genome editing applications, ranging from biotechnology to human gene therapy. I feel privileged to have participated in this adventure. Moreover, thirty years after meeting Lennart Philipson at EMBL, it is a great honor to receive the award with his name.”

Announcement of winner: March 2020

Watch Alumni Awards Ceremony

2019 winner: Patrick Baeuerle

EMBL: Predoc, Huttner Group, Cell Biology and Biophysics, 1986-1987.
2019: Executive Partner, MPM Capital, Cambridge MA, USA

“Our own T cells have a unique potential to cure cancer. I was fortunate to help develop a novel therapy for acute lymphoblastic leukemia that works by enabling a patient’s T lymphocytes to connect to its cancer cells and kill them in a unique fashion. This drug is called Blincyto and is on the market since 2015. It contributes to a recent revolution in cancer therapy referred to as immuno-oncology. I highly appreciate the role EMBL played in my career path ultimately making me a drug developer and serial entrepreneur.”

Announcement of winner: February 2019

2018 winner: Raffaele De Francesco

EMBL: Postdoc, Cortese Group, Genome Biology, 1988-1990.
2018: Head of Virology, Institute for Molecular Genetics, Milan, Italy.

“In the early ‘90s, the inability to propagate HCV in the laboratory was seen as a major obstacle to the identification of specific antivirals. Our discoveries of the NS3/4A protease and NS5B polymerase allowed the scientific community to start looking for inhibitors of these key viral enzymes long before we were able to work with the actual virus. The time I spent as a postdoc at EMBL, surrounded by great scientists working in a highly collaborative spirit, was very inspiring and taught me how to always use a multidisciplinary approach to address complex scientific problems.”

Announcement of winner: March 2018

2017 winner: Matthias Mann

EMBL: Group Leader, Instrumentation, 1992-1998.
2017: Director, Department of Proteomics and Signal Transduction, Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry, Germany and
Program Director, the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Protein Research, University of Copenhagen.

“Mass spectrometry has become an indispensable tool in molecular biology and this could not have happened without the fantastic environment at EMBL. My group greatly benefited from the unique concentration of skills, resources, personalities and ambition that characterised the place then and now. I am very happy that we succeeded in making first mass spectrometry and then proteomics a viable part of the tool kit for biologists and I am especially grateful for Lennart Philipson’s unwavering support of this initially exotic technology and of our group. ”

Announcement of winner: March 2017

2016 winner: Ernst Stelzer

EMBL: Group Leader, Cell Biology and Biophysics, 1983-2011.
2016: Professor in the Life Sciences Department (FB15, IZN) and the Buchmann Institute for Molecular Life Sciences (BMLS) at Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main, Germany.

“Light sheet-based fluorescence microscopy is the result of more than 25 years of hard work. It is also an excellent story of a suitable environment that can apply results of research in physics. As a member of several Units, I saw the limits of “flat biology”, the challenges of maintaining a specimen’s three-dimensionality and the necessity for time-lapse imaging. But, I also had the resources to tackle challenges in a biological manner”.

Announcement of winner: January 2016

2015 winner: Jacques Dubochet

EMBL: Group Leader, Structural and Computational Biology, 1978-1987.
2015: Retired, Former Professor at University of Lausanne, Morges, Switzerland.

“The basic work was done 30 years ago, at that time we had 35Å resolution. People said it was blobology. Then others made big progresses in data processing and instrumentation. Now, I am retired and they get 3.5Å atomic resolution and the method has become very important. For me, it’s very rewarding, interesting and enjoyable.”

Announcement of winner: December 2014
Poster – Awards Ceremony, 10 July 2015