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Jan Holmgren awarded the world's greatest vaccine prize

News: Mar 09, 2017

Jan Holmgren, senior professor in medical microbiology, is this year’s recipient of the Albert B. Sabin Gold Medal Award. He receives the prize for his pioneering contribution to research relating to oral vaccines and mucous membrane immunology, and also for having led the development of the world’s first efficient cholera vaccine.

“It is a prize which is most usually awarded to Americans and it is, of course, a great honor to be recognized in this manner as the second non-American since the prize was established,” comments Jan Holmgren.

He points out that the prize is really awarded for extraordinary achievements within the area of vaccines:

“Half of those who have already been awarded the prize have developed vaccines against diseases such as rabies, chickenpox, pneumonia and rotavirus, and the others have eradicated diseases by means of vaccines, such as the eradication of smallpox in the world and the successful work aimed at eliminating polio from the American continents.”

Cholera vaccine

In the prize citation Jan Holmgren is described as a leader in world health who explained the fundamental mechanisms of disease and immunity in regard to cholera, and who led the research team which developed the world’s first effective potable cholera vaccine, and which opened the way for the global access to the vaccine through the transfer of technology and capacity to countries where cholera is the cause of many millions of deaths every year,

Cholera is an infectious intestinal disease caused by the bacteria Vibrio cholerae via an exotoxin. The disease causes sudden diarrhea and vomiting which leads to unconsciousness and death, often in the course of a few hours. There are currently two varieties of potable vaccine, both of which provide good protection for a number of years. Cholera remains a major health problem in the poorest parts of the world, and research is ongoing with the aim of further improving the vaccine, including Jan Holmgren’s research group at the University of Gothenburg.

Jan Holmgren laid the foundations for the development of the potable vaccine right back in the 1970s, when he described in detail how the toxin which causes cholera is structured and works and also how the intestines’ local immune system against cholera functions and how it can be stimulated by means of local vaccination.

Based on this work, and together with Ann-Mari Svennerholm and other colleagues, he developed the vaccine Dukoral during the 1980s and 1990s. Since then Dukoral has become internationally widespread and a simplified variant of the vaccine is now also being produced locally in Vietnam and India to enable the populations there to have good access to the vaccine.

The Albert B. Sabin’s Gold Medal Prize was established in 1994 and, since then, a person who has made extraordinary contributions towards the production or use of life-saving vaccines, is honored each year. The prize is awarded by the Sabin Vaccine Institute, a non-profit-making organization which is aimed at preventing unnecessary human suffering by means of vaccines.

Fine ceremony

Jan Holmgren will receive the 2017 Albert B. Sabin Gold Medal Award on 25 April, at the American Academy of Science in Washington D.C. It will not be the first time that he takes part during the awarding of the prize: In 2010 he introduced the year’s prizewinner John Clements, a world-leading vaccine epidemiologist who heads up a large international health research institute and who, for example, led the first effect study of an oral vaccine against cholera. 

“John Clements is a personal friend and I have now asked him to introduce me at this year’s prize ceremony. It is usually a very fine and lavish ceremony, with a large number of specially invited guests,” says Jan Holmgren.

Photo: Johan Wingborg/Gothenburg University and Sabin Vaccine Institute.



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