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Oxford vaccine professor awarded prestigious accolade

Samuel Lovett
·2-min read
John_Cairns (Photos by John Cairns)
John_Cairns (Photos by John Cairns)

The British vaccinologist who led the development of the Oxford coronavirus vaccine has been awarded a prestigious accolade recognising her contribution to “a global common good”.

Professor Sarah Gilbert said it was a "great honour" to be handed the Royal Society for Arts, Manufactures and Commerce’s (RSA) Albert Medal.

She is the 156th recipient of the award, which was instituted in 1864 as a memorial to Prince Albert, former president of the society.

Previous winners include Winston Churchill in 1945, for leading the allies to victory in the Second World War, Marie Curie in 1910, for the discovery of radium and Stephen Hawking in 1999, for improving public awareness of physics.

"It is a great honour to receive this award," Prof Gilbert said. "The creation and the development of the Oxford Covid-19 vaccine came after I had worked in this field for many years, learning how to move quickly from a concept to a licensed vaccine, which involves numerous steps along the way.

"With a great team at Oxford we developed a 'vaccine for the world' which is now being used to save lives in many countries; our goal from the very beginning."

RSA chief executive Matthew Taylor congratulated Prof Gilbert, saying: "The RSA's Albert Medal celebrates the best in innovation, and the Oxford vaccine is a huge triumph for British creativity, research and development.

"The path set by Professor Gilbert and her team shows how public, private and philanthropic sectors can collaborate in the public interest.

"Changemakers in every field, seeking new, more effective approaches to complex global challenges, will draw valuable lessons from the Oxford project.

"I am delighted Professor Gilbert has accepted this award, joining the ranks of distinguished innovators the RSA has honoured over the past 150 years, from Marie Curie to Stephen Hawking."

Prof Gilbert was made a reader in vaccinology at Oxford in 2004, before rising through the ranks of the university’s prestigious Jenner Institute.

She later set up her own research group in a bid to create a universal flu vaccine, meaning a jab which would be effective against all the different strains.

Her recent work has focused on developing vaccines against emerging and re-emerging pathogens, including Mers, Lassa, Nipah and CCHF.

Several of the candidates developed in her laboratory have progressed into clinical trials, including a Mers vaccine.

Prof Gilbert was born in 1962 and graduated with a degree in biological sciences from the University of East Anglia.

She is also the mother of triplets. In an interview with The Independent last year, she said her experiences of raising three children had helped prepare her for the challenges of developing a vaccine amid a global pandemic.

“I’m trained for it – I’m the mother of triplets,” she said at the time. “If you get four hours a night with triplets, you’re doing very well. I’ve been through this.”

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