2020 Golden Goose awards honor federally funded scientists in COVID-19

By The Science Advisory Board staff writers

December 1, 2020 -- This years' winners of the Golden Goose awards recognizing federally funded research made contributions that promise to ease the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now in its ninth year, the awardees are selected by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) with members of Congress and scientific and educational organizations. The awards pay respect to achievements in basic science that might otherwise get overlooked or be underestimated.

On December 1, three teams of researchers were given awards during a virtual ceremony:

1. Kizzmekia Corbett, PhD; Barney Graham, MD, PhD; Emmie de Wit, PhD; and Vincent Munster, PhD

These National Institutes of Health (NIH) researchers with a history of developing vaccines for severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) developed the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein as a vaccine target. They are credited with the basic research paving the way for the rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines, a number of which are now in final research stages.

2. Jason McLellan, PhD; and Daniel Wrapp

McLellan, an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin, with graduate student Wrapp, analyzed an antibody produced by llamas and created a new antibody that can bind to the spike protein on the novel coronavirus, thereby preventing virus spread in human cells, paving the way for use as a vaccine antigen. This research, which was supported by the NIH and other federal agencies, built upon the earlier discovery that llamas and other types of animals known as camelids produce nanobodies, which are small enough to attach to the coronavirus spike protein.

3. James Crowe Jr., MD

Crowe, director of the Vanderbilt Vaccine Center, is an expert in the development of antibodies targeted at infectious diseases, having tackled the likes of Ebola, dengue fever, HIV, influenza, and Zika in the past. During the pandemic, with support from the NIH and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, his lab identified promising antibodies for tests and treatments, research that culminated in ongoing late-stage studies of new treatments.

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