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Robert Langer

Millennium Technology Prize

2008

Dr Robert Langer is one of the most prolific scientist-entrepreneurs, with over 1,500 scientific papers and over 1,400 pending and granted patents to his name. He has also founded over 40 biotechnology firms, including Moderna, which developed an innovative vaccine for the COVID-19 coronavirus.

He is one of the world’s most-cited researchers, and the most cited engineer, and has received over 220 major awards, including Portugal’s Medal of Science, the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, Kyoto Prize, Kabiller Prize and Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences. 

In the 1970s, he developed groundbreaking polymer materials that allowed a protein’s large molecules to pass through membranes in a controlled manner to inhibit angiogenesis, the process through which tumours recruit blood vessels.

When he won the 2008 Millennium Technology Prize for this and other pioneering work, his citation pointed to “his inventions and development of innovative biomaterials for controlled drug release and tissue regeneration that have saved and improved the lives of hundreds of millions of people”.

He is currently partnering with the Gates Foundation on another COVID-19 vaccine that would be encapsulated in tiny particles that burst at different times so that a single vaccine shot can provide immunity that renews itself. He is also involved in many other projects, including the creation of a band-aid with microneedles to deliver vaccines as well as booster shots.

“We’re working on better ways of delivering micronutrients, and tissue engineering in the lab, ways of making new tissues and organs. We’ve also designed a little pill that you can swallow to deliver large molecules like insulin or possibly any biologic,” he added.

Dr Langer is now an Institute Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the highest distinction awarded to a faculty member, and his laboratory at MIT is the largest academic biomedical engineering laboratory in the world.

He is the youngest person, at 43, to be elected to the three National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, and one of only three living people to have received both the United States National Medal of Science and National Medal of Technology and Innovation.