The inaugural VinFuture Awards, presented by the VinFuture Foundation in Vietnam, recognize and reward transformative innovation in science and technology. The awards are among the largest science and technology prizes in the world. This year, they honor work on mRNA technology, metal-organic frameworks (MOFs), flexible semiconductors for sensing, and tenofovir gel for the prevention of HIV.
The Grand Prize, endowed with USD 3 million, is awarded to proven breakthrough research and technological innovations that improve the quality of human life and create a more equitable and sustainable world for future generations. Three additional special prizes, endowed with USD 500,000 each, are dedicated to research or innovations in an emerging field with the potential to create positive changes for humanity, outstanding female researchers or innovators, and exceptional researchers or innovators currently working in an institute located in a developing country, respectively.
The Grand Prize was awarded to Katalin Karikó, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA, and University of Szeged, Hungary, Drew Weissman, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA, and Pieter Cullis, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada, for their work on mRNA technology, which paved the way for COVID-19 vaccines. In their research, they were able to modify mRNA and encapsulate it in lipid nanoparticles, preventing the immune system from reacting to foreign mRNA entering the body and avoiding cytokine induction, toxicity, and off-target effects. mRNA technology also has the potential to generate vaccines against HIV, cancer, autoimmune diseases, and genetic diseases, potentially saving the lives of billions of people in the future.
Katalin Karikó, born on January 17, 1955, in Szolnok, Hungary, studied biology at the University of Szeged, where she received her Ph.D. in 1982. After a postdoctoral stay at the Biological Research Centre (BRC) of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Szeged, she moved to the United States in 1985. She was a postdoctoral fellow at Temple University, Philadelphia, PA, USA, from 1985 to 1988, and at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, MD, USA, from 1988 to 1989. Karikó serves as Senior Vice President of BioNTech AG in Mainz, Germany, as Professor at the University of Szeged, and as an Adjunct Professor of Neurosurgery at the University of Pennsylvania.
Katalin Karikó has received numerous awards, including the Japan Prize in 2022, the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences 2022, the Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstädter Prize 2022, the Széchenyi Prize 2021, the Wilhelm Exner Medal in 2021, the Semmelweis Prize 2021, the Princess of Asturias Award 2021, and the Rosenstiel Award in 2020, and is a Member of the Academia Europaea.
Drew Weissman studied biochemistry and enzymology at Brandeis University, Waltham, MA USA, and immunology and microbiology at Boston University, MA, USA, where he received his Ph.D. in 1987. Then, he served as a resident at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, followed by a fellowship at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Bethesda, MD, USA. In 1997, Weissman moved to the University of Pennsylvania, where he currently serves as Roberts Family Professor in Vaccine Research.
Among many other honors, Weissman has received the Japan Prize in 2022, the Princess of Asturias Award 2021, the Rosenstiel Award in 2020, and an honorary degree from the Drexel University College of Medicine, Philadelphia, PA, USA.
Pieter Cullis studied physics at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada, and then worked as a postdoctoral fellow in biochemistry at Oxford University, UK, and at Utrecht University, The Netherlands. Cullis serves as Scientific Director and CEO, NanoMedicines Innovation Network, and as Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of British Columbia.
Among many other awards, Cullis has received the Ayerst Award from the Canadian Biochemical Society in 1986, the Alec D. Bangham Award for contributions to liposome science and technology in 2000, the B.C. Biotechnology Association Award for Innovation and Achievement in 2002, and the Prix Galien Canada award in 2011. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 2004.
Outstanding Achievements in Emerging Fields
The first Special Prize, dedicated to “Outstanding Achievements in Emerging Fields” was awarded to Omar Yaghi, University of California, Berkeley, USA, for his work on metal-organic frameworks (MOFs). MOFs are a class of materials with permanent porosity, high surface areas, and impressive stability. With tuneable pore sizes that enable the absorption and storage of gas and water molecules, MOFs could provide solutions for the capture, storage, separation, and chemical manipulation of different types of gases and particles, and have the potential to create a cleaner environment.
In particular, Professor Yaghi’s MOF water harvester  has been proven to have the potential to generate clean water at any time, in any place. If successfully implemented, MOFs could improve the lives of millions of people in regions that lack access to clean water, helping increase water independence and quality of life.
Omar M. Yaghi studied chemistry at the State University of New York-Albany, NY, USA, and the University of Illinois-Urbana, USA, where he received his Ph.D. in 1990. He was a National Science Foundation (NSF) Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA, from 1990 to 1992. Yaghi then joined the Arizona State University, USA, as Assistant Professor. In 1999, he moved to the University of Michigan, USA, as Robert W. Parry Professor. From 2006 to 2011, he served as Irving and Jean Stone Chair in Physical Sciences and Christopher S. Foote Professor of Chemistry at the University of California, Los Angeles, USA.
Since 2012, Omar Yaghi has served as James and Neeltje Tretter Chair Professor of Chemistry at the University of California (UC), Berkeley, and Senior Faculty Scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, CA, USA. Omar Yaghi is the Founding Director of the Berkeley Global Science Institute and Co-Director of the Kavli Energy NanoSciences Institute at UC Berkeley and the California Research Alliance by BASF.
Among many other awards, Yaghi has received the Sacconi Medal from the Italian Chemical Society (SCI) in 2004, the American Chemical Society (ACS) Award in the Chemistry of Materials in 2009, the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) Centenary Prize in 2010, the Japan Society of Coordination Chemistry International Award in 2017, and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences Gregori Aminoff Prize in 2019. Yaghi is an Elected Member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.
The second Special Prize, dedicated to female innovators, was awarded to Zhenan Bao, Stanford University, CA, USA, for her work on developing flexible electronics with the sensing properties of human skin. The electronics are made from a type of flexible molecular semiconductor material that has self-healing and biodegradable properties, allowing electronics to be integrated seamlessly into the human body. They have great potential in medical diagnosis and smart healthcare, and could also be applied to wearable and implantable electronic devices, enhancing the quality of life of millions of people with disability and sparking future medical breakthroughs.
Zhenan Bao studied chemistry at Nanjing University, China, the University of Illinois, Chicago, USA, and the University of Chicago, IL, where she received her Ph.D. in 1995. She joined the Technical Staff at Bell Labs, Lucent Technologies, Murray Hill, NJ, USA, in 1995, and became an Associate Professor at Stanford University in 2004. Today, she serves as Department Chair and K.K. Lee Professor of Chemical Engineering, and by courtesy, a Professor of Chemistry and a Professor of Material Science and Engineering at Stanford University. Bao founded the Stanford Wearable Electronics Initiate (eWEAR) in 2016 and serves as the faculty director.
Among many other honors, Zhenan Bao has received the Gibbs Medal from the Chicago session of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in 2020, the Wilhelm Exner Medal from the Austrian Federal Minister of Science in 2018, the ACS Award on Applied Polymer Science in 2017, the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Award in the Physical Sciences in 2017, the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) Beilby Medal and Prize in 2009, and the IUPAC Creativity in Applied Polymer Science Prize in 2008.
Developing Country Innovators
The Special Prize for “Innovators from Developing Countries” was awarded to Salim Abdool Karim and Quarraisha Abdool Karim, both Columbia University, New York, USA, and University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, for their research on effective HIV prevention. The married couple developed a tenofovir-based gel that prevents the sexual transmission of HIV.
Salim Abdool Karim received his M.S. from Columbia University in 1988 and his Ph.D. from the University of Natal in 1999. He is CAPRISA Professor for Global Health in the Department of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. He also serves as Director of the Centre for the AIDS Program of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA), Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and as Adjunct Professor of Medicine at Weill Medical College of Cornell University, New York, USA.
Karim is an elected Fellow of the World Academy of Sciences, the African Academy of Sciences, the Academy of Science in South Africa, the Royal Society of South Africa, and the American Academy of Microbiology. He is a Foreign Associate Member of the U.S. National Academy of Medicine.
Quarraisha Abdool Karim received her M.S. from Columbia University in 1988 and her Ph.D. from the University of Natal in 2000. She holds Professorships in Clinical Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, and in Public Health at the Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine, University of KwaZulu-Natal. She is also a visiting scientist at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, USA, and Visiting Lecturer at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA.
Among other awards, Karim has received the John Dirks-Canada Gairdner Award in Global Health, the Christophe Merieux Award from the French Academies of Sciences, and the Allan Rosenfield Columbia University Alumni Award. She also was a L’Oreal-Unesco Women in Science Laureate for Africa and the Middle East.
Selected Publications by Katalin Karikó
- mRNA-based therapeutics — developing a new class of drugs,
Ugur Sahin, Katalin Karikó, Özlem Türeci,
Nat. Rev. Drug Discov. 2014, 13, 759–780.
- Sequence- and target-independent angiogenesis suppression by siRNA via TLR3,
Mark E. Kleinman, Kiyoshi Yamada, Atsunobu Takeda, Vasu Chandrasekaran, Miho Nozaki, Judit Z. Baffi, Romulo J. C. Albuquerque, Satoshi Yamasaki, Masahiro Itaya, Yuzhen Pan, Binoy Appukuttan, Daniel Gibbs, Zhenglin Yang, Katalin Karikó, Balamurali K. Ambati, Traci A. Wilgus, Luisa A. DiPietro, Eiji Sakurai, Kang Zhang, Justine R. Smith, Ethan W. Taylor, Jayakrishna Ambati,
Nature 2008, 452, 591–597.
- Incorporation of Pseudouridine Into mRNA Yields Superior Nonimmunogenic Vector With Increased Translational Capacity and Biological Stability,
Katalin Karikó, Hiromi Muramatsu, Frank A Welsh, János Ludwig, Hiroki Kato, Shizuo Akira, Drew Weissman,
Mol. Ther. 2008, 16, 1833–1840.
Selected Publications by Drew Weissman
- mRNA vaccines — a new era in vaccinology,
Norbert Pardi, Michael J. Hogan, Frederick W. Porter, Drew Weissman,
Nat. Rev. Drug Discov. 2018, 17, 261–279.
- Zika virus protection by a single low-dose nucleoside-modified mRNA vaccination,
Norbert Pardi, Michael J. Hogan, Rebecca S. Pelc, Hiromi Muramatsu, Hanne Andersen, Christina R. DeMaso, Kimberly A. Dowd, Laura L. Sutherland, Richard M. Scearce, Robert Parks, Wendeline Wagner, Alex Granados, Jack Greenhouse, Michelle Walker, Elinor Willis, Jae-Sung Yu, Charles E. McGee, Gregory D. Sempowski, Barbara L. Mui, Ying K. Tam, Yan-Jang Huang, Dana Vanlandingham, Veronica M. Holmes, Harikrishnan Balachandran, Sujata Sahu, Michelle Lifton, Stephen Higgs, Scott E. Hensley, Thomas D. Madden, Michael J. Hope, Katalin Karikó, Sampa Santra, Barney S. Graham, Mark G. Lewis, Theodore C. Pierson, Barton F. Haynes, Drew Weissman,
Nature 2017, 543, 248–251.
- Generating the optimal mRNA for therapy: HPLC purification eliminates immune activation and improves translation of nucleoside-modified, protein-encoding mRNA,
Katalin Karikó, Hiromi Muramatsu, János Ludwig, Drew Weissman,
Nucleic Acids Res. 2011, 39, e142.
Selected Publications by Pieter Cullis
- Liposomal drug delivery systems: From concept to clinical applications,
Theresa M. Allen, Pieter R. Cullis,
Adv. Drug Deliv. Rev. 2013, 65, 36–48.
- Maximizing the Potency of siRNA Lipid Nanoparticles for Hepatic Gene Silencing In Vivo,
Muthusamy Jayaraman, Steven M. Ansell, Barbara L. Mui, Ying K. Tam, Jianxin Chen, Xinyao Du, David Butler, Laxman Eltepu, Shigeo Matsuda, Jayaprakash K. Narayanannair, Kallanthottathil G. Rajeev, Ismail M. Hafez, Akin Akinc, Martin A. Maier, Mark A. Tracy, Pieter R. Cullis, Thomas D. Madden, Muthiah Manoharan, Michael J. Hope,
Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2012, 51, 8529–8533.
- Rational design of cationic lipids for siRNA delivery,
Sean C Semple, Akin Akinc, Jianxin Chen, Ammen P Sandhu, Barbara L Mui, Connie K Cho, Dinah W Y Sah, Derrick Stebbing, Erin J Crosley, Ed Yaworski, Ismail M Hafez, J Robert Dorkin, June Qin, Kieu Lam, Kallanthottathil G Rajeev, Kim F Wong, Lloyd B Jeffs, Lubomir Nechev, Merete L Eisenhardt, Muthusamy Jayaraman, Mikameh Kazem, Martin A Maier, Masuna Srinivasulu, Michael J Weinstein, Qingmin Chen, Rene Alvarez, Scott A Barros, Soma De, Sandra K Klimuk, Todd Borland, Verbena Kosovrasti, William L Cantley, Ying K Tam, Muthiah Manoharan, Marco A Ciufolini, Mark A Tracy, Antonin de Fougerolles, Ian MacLachlan, Pieter R Cullis, Thomas D Madden, Michael J Hope,
Nat. Biotechnol.2010, 28, 172–176.
Selected Publications by Omar Yaghi
- The Chemistry and Applications of Metal-Organic Frameworks,
Hiroyasu Furukawa, Kyle E. Cordova, Michael O’Keeffe, Omar M. Yaghi,
- Introduction to Metal–Organic Frameworks,
Hong-Cai Zhou, Jeffrey R. Long, Omar M. Yaghi,
Chem. Rev. 2012, 112, 673–674.
- Exceptional chemical and thermal stability of zeolitic imidazolate frameworks,
K. S. Park, Z. Ni, A. P. Cote, J. Y. Choi, R. Huang, F. J. Uribe-Romo, H. K. Chae, M. O’Keeffe, O. M. Yaghi,
Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 2006, 103, 10186–10191.
Selected Publications by Zhenan Bao
- Skin-like pressure and strain sensors based on transparent elastic films of carbon nanotubes,
Darren J. Lipomi, Michael Vosgueritchian, Benjamin C-K. Tee, Sondra L. Hellstrom, Jennifer A. Lee, Courtney H. Fox, Zhenan Bao,
Nat. Nanotechnol. 2011, 6, 788–792.
- Highly sensitive flexible pressure sensors with microstructured rubber dielectric layers,
Stefan C. B. Mannsfeld, Benjamin C-K. Tee, Randall M. Stoltenberg, Christopher V. H-H. Chen, Soumendra Barman, Beinn V. O. Muir, Anatoliy N. Sokolov, Colin Reese, Zhenan Bao,
Nat. Mater. 2010, 9, 859–864.
- Evaluation of Solution-Processed Reduced Graphene Oxide Films as Transparent Conductors,
Héctor A. Becerril, Jie Mao, Zunfeng Liu, Randall M. Stoltenberg, Zhenan Bao, Yongsheng Chen,
ACS Nano 2008, 2, 463–470.
Selected Publications by Salim Abdool Karim and Quarraisha Abdool Karim
- Integration of Antiretroviral Therapy with Tuberculosis Treatment,
Salim S. Abdool Karim, Kogieleum Naidoo, Anneke Grobler, Nesri Padayatchi, Cheryl Baxter, Andrew L. Gray, Tanuja Gengiah, Santhanalakshmi Gengiah, Anushka Naidoo, Niraksha Jithoo, Gonasagrie Nair, Wafaa M. El-Sadr, Gerald Friedland, Quarraisha Abdool Karim,
N. Engl. J. Med. 2011, 365, 1492–1501.
- Effectiveness and Safety of Tenofovir Gel, an Antiretroviral Microbicide, for the Prevention of HIV Infection in Women,
Quarraisha Abdool Karim, Salim S. Abdool Karim, Janet A. Frohlich, Anneke C. Grobler, Cheryl Baxter, Leila E. Mansoor, Ayesha B. M. Kharsany, Sengeziwe Sibeko, Koleka P. Mlisana, Zaheen Omar, Tanuja N. Gengiah, Silvia Maarschalk, Natasha Arulappan, Mukelisiwe Mlotshwa, Lynn Morris, Douglas Taylor,
Science 2010, 329, 1168–1174.
- Timing of Initiation of Antiretroviral Drugs during Tuberculosis Therapy,
Salim S. Abdool Karim, Kogieleum Naidoo, Anneke Grobler, Nesri Padayatchi, Cheryl Baxter, Andrew Gray, Tanuja Gengiah, Gonasagrie Nair, Sheila Bamber, Aarthi Singh, Munira Khan, Jacqueline Pienaar, Wafaa El-Sadr, Gerald Friedland, Quarraisha Abdool Karim,
N. Engl. J. Med. 2010, 362, 697–706.
Also of Interest
- Video: I Have Always Been Very Interested in the Beauty of Molecules,
Vera Koester, Jasmin Herr, Johanna Rath,
Omar M. Yaghi about his research, the discovery of MOFs, supporting young academics, and our responsibility as scientists
- Clever Picture: Comparing COVID-19 Vaccines
Four Covid-19 vaccines have been approved in the EU to date
- Watch the award ceremony on YouTube