Los Angeles (February 25, 2022)—Michelson Philanthropies and Science congratulate the recipients of the inaugural Michelson Philanthropies & Science Prize for Immunology. The winners are three early-career investigators who are conducting transformative research that will significantly advance human immunology, vaccine, and immunotherapy discovery for major global diseases.

Dr. Paul Bastard, of the Laboratory of Human Genetics of Infectious Diseases, Institut Imagine, INSERM & University of Paris and The Rockefeller University, New York, receives the Grand Prize of $30,000 for his outstanding paper “Why do people die from COVID-19?: Autoantibodies neutralizing type I interferons increase with age.” Bastard’s hope is that his findings about the impairment of specific immune mechanisms in those who’ve suffered most from COVID-19 will pave the way for the adoption of precision medicine approaches for this disease, and for infectious diseases more broadly.

“This research stood out to the Science editors and judges for its exceptionally important identification of factors that can contribute to COVID-19 severity, and which can be recognized prior to infection allowing people with particular vulnerabilities to protect themselves,” said Seth Thomas Scanlon, Associate Editor at Science. “More broadly, this work may also help explain some of the variability seen in immune responses to other viruses and help inform clinical practice in the years to come.”

Finalist awards of $10,000 go to Dr. Scott Biering from the Division of Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology at the University of California, Berkeley, and to Dr. Lisa Wagar of the Department of Immunology at the University of California, Irvine. All three papers will be published on February 25, 2022, in Science.

“This is the kind of brilliant and disruptive thinking that will change the trajectory of immunology,” said Dr. Gary K. Michelson, founder and co-chair of Michelson Philanthropies, which includes the Michelson Medical Research Foundation. “We are proud, through this partnership with Science, to support the next generation of innovators and provide a renowned platform for their research. Early career investigators with bold concepts do not receive traditional funding. This award shines a spotlight on the problem of not funding the people who are at the ideal intersection of intellect, knowledge, imagination, daring, and perseverance.”

The winners of the prize were selected through a global competition where their essays, explaining how their novel approaches have advanced immunotherapy research and how it will have a lasting impact, were reviewed by a distinguished committee of scientists chaired by Science editors.

“Like AAAS/Science, Michelson Philanthropies believes in recognizing and supporting researchers in what may be the most critical phase of their career,” said Bill Moran, publisher of the Science family of journals. “We are pleased to partner with Gary Michelson and his foundation to foster discovery and celebrate breakthrough research.”


About the Recipients

GRAND PRIZE: Paul Bastard, M.D., Ph.D.
Laboratory of Human Genetics of Infectious Diseases, Institut Imagine, INSERM & University of Paris and The Rockefeller University, New York

Why do people die from COVID-19?: Autoantibodies neutralizing type I interferons increase with age.

Although millions of people have suffered from life-threatening COVID-19, the course of infection has been benign in many more individuals. Aging is the major risk factor for life-threatening disease, the risk doubling every five years from childhood onward. What are the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying such vast and age-dependent clinical heterogeneity? The COVID Human Genetic Effort recruited patients with all clinical outcomes, ranging from silent infection to lethal disease. Dr. Bastard and his team searched for both inborn errors of immunity (IEI) and auto-immune phenocopies of these IEIs. They found IEIs affecting type I IFN and auto-Abs neutralizing type I IFNs as being causative of life-threatening COVID-19 pneumonia in about 20% of cases. These auto-Abs pre-exist infection and increase sharply in those over 65 years old.

FINALIST: Scott B. Biering, Ph.D.
Division of Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology, School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley

One antibody to treat them all: Conserved flavivirus protein holds potential as target for versatile vaccines and therapies.

Flaviviruses are a group of medically important viral pathogens which cause diverse disease pathologies and significant global disease burden. A contributing factor to flavivirus pathogenesis is the conserved non-structural protein 1 (NS1), which triggers vascular leak through interactions with endothelial cells. While NS1-specific antibodies have been shown to be protective against flavivirus infection, the mechanism by which they protect is unknown. To determine how anti-NS1 antibodies protect against flavivirus infection and how NS1 triggers pathogenesis, Dr. Biering and his team solved a crystal structure of a protective and cross-reactive monoclonal antibody 2B7 in complex with dengue virus NS1.

FINALIST: Lisa Wagar, Ph.D.
Institute for Immunology, University of California, Irvine

Small centers of defense: Deciphering immune responses to viruses and vaccines using human tonsil organoids.

Recent advances in organoid technologies have enabled a deeper understanding of the complex cell-cell interactions occurring within human tissues. Adaptive immune responses to vaccines, infectious diseases, and other antigens rely on many cell types dynamically organizing within lymph nodes and other lymphoid tissues. Dr. Wagar and her team recently developed an immune organoid platform derived from primary tonsil tissues, a lymph node-like secondary lymphoid tissue, to support in vitro analysis of human adaptive immunity. In the future, it is their hope that the knowledge gained from in vitro studies of human adaptive immunity will lead to improved vaccination and immunotherapeutic strategies.

The Michelson Philanthropies & Science Prize for Immunology will be awarded annually for transformative work achieved in the past three years by early-career researchers in the broad field of immunology, including within a variety of cross-cutting disciplines such as AI, protein engineering, bioinformatics, nanotechnology, and tropical medicine, to name a few. Applications for the next round are open May 1 to Oct. 1, 2022.

About Michelson Philanthropies
Michelson Philanthropies is devoted to driving systemic change to advance medical research, animal welfare, education and equity, and intellectual property through the Michelson Medical Research Foundation, Michelson Found Animals Foundation, Michelson 20MM Foundation, Michelson Institute for Intellectual Property, and the Michelson Center for Public Policy. Created and co-chaired by Alya and Dr. Gary K. Michelson, the network of private foundations supports vulnerable and underserved communities through catalytic grantmaking, social enterprises, impact investments, and energetic public advocacy. For more information and to receive updates, visit us at michelsonphilanthropies.org and follow us on Twitter @MichelsonPhils.

About Science/AAAS
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world’s largest general scientific society, and publisher of the journals, Science, Science Translational Medicine, Science Signaling, Science Advances, Science Immunology, and Science Robotics. AAAS was founded in 1848, and includes some 254 affiliated societies and academies of science, serving 10 million individuals. Science, founded by Thomas Edison, has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world, with an estimated total readership of more than 400,000.

The non-profit AAAS—www.aaas.org—is open to all and fulfills its mission to “advance science and serve society” through initiatives in science policy, international programs, science education, and more. Science’s editorials, any paper with broad public health significance, and all research articles 12 months after publication are always free. Science’s daily online news also offers 5 articles a month for free, along with all COVID-19 research. Science further participates in various efforts to provide free access for scientists in the world’s poorest countries.”

Learn more: sciencemag.org/Michelson

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