Ernst Jung Gold Medal for Medicine 2014: Professor Charles Weissmann MD PhD
He has been chosen to receive the "medal for his scientific achievements, which have set milestones in the history of molecular biology", states the Scientific Advisory Board as the reason behind their decision to award the Ernst Jung Gold Medal for Medicine 2014 to Professor Charles Weissmann.
A brief summary of an extremely rich and varied life's work, which the 82-year old researcher will no doubt add to with yet more outstanding achievements in the years to come: To this day, the outstanding scientist is still researching at the Scripps Research Institute in Jupiter, Florida, which he has been head of for many years. The Swiss citizen born in 1931 in Budapest was previously professor of molecular biology at the University of Zurich until 1999 and was active for five years as a Visiting Professor at University College in London.
Professor Weissmann was born in Budapest and grew up in Zurich and Rio de Janeiro. He developed a passion for science at an early age. At school, he loved reading "Microbe Hunters" by Paul de Kruif, which has also inspired many other scientists. After completing his A-levels in Zurich, he went on the study medicine and organic chemistry, graduated in both subjects and was then active at the School of Medicine at New York University for six years - latterly an Associate Professor - until his return to the University of Zurich. His significant contribution to medical progress has already been honored with a total of seven honorary doctor titles in Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, Scotland and the USA.
His native country Switzerland still features heavily in the private life of Professor Weissmann thanks to his love of skiing. His art collection is another of the scientist's great passions.
Life saver from the laboratory
"No other material on earth - neither gold nor diamonds - can currently command such a high price. One gramme of interferon costs 100 million Deutschmark", the Spiegel publication reported back in 1980. At that time, only a single institute in the world was capable of obtaining the expensive substance, which proved highly effective in particular against certain types of cancer, from donated human blood using a complex process – until an ingenious invention from Professor Charles Weissmann revolutionised the production in 1979. He developed a low-cost procedure for producing human interferon in large quantities using genetically programmed coli-bacteria and caused yet another revolution by founding the first biotechnology company in the world. Since then, Professor Weissmann's discovery has saved many thousands of lives all over the world.
Further medical innovations of global significance followed. Professor Weissmann researched the genetics of so-called retroviruses, which include the dreaded HI viruses that cause AIDS. He became a pioneer of scientific progress once again when BSE, commonly known as "mad cow disease", began to spread and many people were falling ill with the otherwise extremely rare Creutzfeldt-Jakob encephalopathy. With his groundbreaking research into the contribution of prions – incorrectly formed proteins with virus-like properties – Professor Weissmann made a major contribution to understanding the basic principles of the disease.
Three milestones in the life of a researcher, full of discoveries and developments, innovations and revolutions, which is now being honored with the Ernst Jung Gold Medal for Medicine 2014.