Leopoldina and Stifterverband honour Christoph Huber with a special edition of the Carl-Friedrich-von-Weizsäcker-Prize
The Stifterverband and the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina have honoured haematologist, oncologist and immunologist Prof. Dr. Christoph Huber with a special edition of the Carl-Friedrich-von-Weizsäcker Prize. The award recognises Prof. Huber’s contribution to research and knowledge translation in the field of cancer immunotherapy. His research provided an important foundation for the development of an mRNA vaccine against COVID-19, which proved such a vital tool for managing the pandemic. The Carl-Friedrich-von-Weizsäcker-Prize is endowed with 50,000 euros and honours researchers who have made a valuable scientific contribution to resolving key societal challenges.
Christoph Huber was Head of the Department of Internal Medicine III (Haematology and Oncology) at the University of Mainz/Germany when, in 2008, he founded the Mainz-based company BioNTech together with his colleagues Prof. Dr. Uğur Şahin and Prof. Dr. Özlem Türeci. The company specialises in personalized cancer immunotherapy and mRNA technology, but when the pandemic hit it switched its attention to developing a vaccine against COVID-19. The BioNTech vaccine was the first to be approved for use against COVID-19 and has proved an invaluable tool for pandemic containment.
„Christoph Huber is a pioneer in the field of cancer immunology research, and was quick to recognise the potential of this technology. Thanks to his tireless commitment, numerous research findings in the area of cancer immunotherapy have made the leap from the lab to clinical application. The fact that his research and visionary approach provided the foundation for the development of a novel COVID-19 vaccine at such speed, is testament to the significance of his work,“ explains Prof. (ETHZ) Dr. Gerald Haug, President of the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina.
The Carl-Friedrich-von-Weizsäcker-Prize is awarded to scientists who have made a valuable scientific contribution to tackling key societal issues. „We are honouring Professor Huber with this special award in recognition of his exceptional achievements in basic and translational research, and their vital contribution in the fight against the pandemic,“ says Prof. Dr. Andreas Barner, President of the Stifterverband. „It is thanks to Christoph Huber’s fundamental research in the field of cancer immunotherapy, and his enormous dedication as spokesperson for the collaborative research centre within the German Research Foundation (DFG) at the University of Mainz, that Uğur Şahin was able to conduct targeted research into using mRNA vaccines to treat tumours.“ These and other research findings played a vital role in the development of mRNA vaccines against COVID-19. „Christoph Huber is not just a leading international researcher; he is also a highly successful science manager, company co-founder and the creator and head of leading translational science networks,“ continues Andreas Barner.
In the field of cancer research, Christoph Huber has made many significant contributions to the advancement of immunotherapy for malignant diseases. His achievements include the development of recombinant defence hormones (cytokines), the characterisation of tumour-associated antigens, cell therapeutics and various tumour vaccines. Born in Austria, he first started working in cancer immunotherapy back in the 1970s and has since become a world-renowned researcher in the field. He worked at the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz/Germany from 1990 until 2009 when he was appointed Professor emeritus. In this time, he established and ran a collaborative research centre within the DFG specialising in tumour defence mechanisms, and also founded the first tumour vaccination centre in Germany with the help of German Cancer Aid. Christoph Huber also has a keen interest in translational immunology research, which focuses on the translation from fundamental research to clinical practice. He founded and, for two decades, chaired Europe’s leading research and communication platform in this field, and has also organised numerous scientific conferences.
Christoph Huber was born in 1944 and studied medicine in Innsbruck/Austria. After completing his specialist medical training in internal medicine and his habilitation (post-doctoral qualification), he took up research posts at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm/Sweden, the Wallenberg Laboratories in Uppsala/Sweden and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle/USA. In 1983, he became Head of the Clinical Immunobiology and Bone Marrow Transplantation Department at the University Hospital for Internal Medicine in Innsbruck/Austria, one of the first facilities in Europe to offer stem cell transplants. In 1990, he moved to the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz/Germany where he took up the Chair of Internal Medicine and headed up the Department of Internal Medicine III which specialised in haematology, oncology, pulmonology and stem cell transplants. He has received multiple awards in recognition of his research and his commitment to this field, including the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (1st Class), the Austrian Decoration for Science and Art, and an honorary membership of the Austrian Academy of Sciences.
The Carl-Friedrich-von-Weizsäcker-Prize is a 50,000 euro science prize awarded by the Stifterverband and the Leopoldina to researchers who have made a significant scientific contribution to tackle the great challenges society is facing today. This year, the biannual award is being presented as a special edition outside of the normal turn. The very first Weizsäcker Prize was awarded to scientist and civil rights campaigner Prof. Dr. Jens Reich in 2009. In 2020, the prize went to economist Prof. Dr. Christian Dustmann.