February 4, 2008
La Jolla, CA – The Vilcek Foundation has named Salk professor Dr. Inder Verma as the recipient of its 2008 prize in biomedical science. The honor is awarded annually to foreign-born individuals for their extraordinary contributions to society in the United States.
In explaining the motivation for the awards, Dr. Jan T. Vilcek, president of The Vilcek Foundation said: “We should not have to be reminded of how much America owes to people who were born abroad, but we do. Historically, the United States has innumerable foreign-born individuals to thank for establishing it as a leader in the sciences and arts, and in many other fields as well. In awarding The Vilcek Foundation Prizes, our primary objective is to raise awareness of that reality. We should not forget that so much of what this country takes credit for is the achievement of immigrants.”
Marica Vilcek, vice-president of the Foundation, added: “As the only foundation to recognize the outstanding contributions of foreign-born individuals to the biomedical sciences and the arts, we are in a privileged position to shine a spotlight on leaders such as Dr. Verma, whose achievements we are pleased to honor this year.”
The foundation also awards a prize for the arts, which went to Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov. A $50,000 cash award and a commemorative trophy created by designer Stefan Sagmeister will be presented to Dr. Verma and Mr. Golijov during The Foundation’s third annual awards dinner on March 26, 2008 at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in New York. The two prize winners were chosen by independent panels of experts.
Dr. Inder M. Verma is an American Cancer Society Professor in the Laboratory of Genetics at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, and one of the world’s leading authorities on the development and use of engineered viruses for gene therapy. Dr. Verma was born in India, received a master’s degree from Lucknow University, and his doctorate from The Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovoth, Israel. After postdoctoral study at MIT in the laboratory of the Nobel laureate David Baltimore, he joined the faculty of the Salk Institute at age 26.
Dr. Verma’s major research interests are cellular genes whose alteration can cause cancer and the development of techniques for gene therapy. Dr. Verma’s group created a vector, or carrier, that is now used worldwide for gene delivery. The genetically engineered virus is used to insert new genes into cells in a test tube; the cells can then be returned to the body, where they produce an essential protein that the body is missing. Dr. Verma’s group is also studying two genes implicated in familial breast cancer, BRCA1 and BRCA2, and recently demonstrated that their action is linked to the cell’s division cycle and that BRCA1 regulates gene activity.
When the field of biotechnology was in its infancy, the Government of India invited Dr. Verma to join a task force charged with the goal to position the country as a leader in biotechnology. Dr. Verma has traveled to India every year for the past 37 years; he has lectured there on the topic of gene therapy, visited many institutions and advised a number of colleagues, young investigators and students.
For his many outstanding accomplishments, Dr. Verma was elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and as a Foreign Fellow to the National Academy of Sciences, India. Dr. Verma was also elected to the Third World Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society.
The Vilcek Foundation’s mission is to heighten public awareness of the contributions of immigrants to the sciences, arts and culture in the United States. The Foundation was established in 2000 by Jan and Marica Vilcek, immigrants from the former Czechoslovakia. The mission of the foundation was inspired by the couple’s careers in biomedical science and art history, respectively, as well as their personal experiences and appreciation for the opportunities they received as newcomers to the United States.
Former recipients of the Vilcek Foundation Prizes include: the artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude; Dr. Rudolf Jaenisch, founding member of the Whitehead Institute at MIT; Dr. Joan Massagué, Chairman of the Cancer and Biology Genetics Program at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center; and architect and urban planner Denise Scott Brown. In addition to awarding annual prizes in the biomedical science and arts and humanities, the Vilcek Foundation will also showcase the work of innovative artists, designers, filmmakers, and others, many of them immigrants who have yet to achieve critical or financial success, at its new headquarters at 167 East 73rd Street in New York City.
For more information about The Vilcek Foundation please visit www.vilcek.org.
The Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, is an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to fundamental discoveries in the life sciences, the improvement of human health and the training of future generations of researchers. Jonas Salk, M.D., whose polio vaccine all but eradicated the crippling disease poliomyelitis in 1955, opened the Institute in 1965 with a gift of land from the City of San Diego and the financial support of the March of Dimes.