Pictured: Dr. Jan Holmgren with his daughter, Anna, before the 2017 Albert B. Sabin Gold Medal Award ceremony
Last night, Dr. Jan Holmgren received the 24th annual Albert B. Sabin Gold Medal Award in honor of his pioneering work in mucosal immunology and leadership in the development the world’s first oral cholera vaccine. Guests gathered at the National Academy of Sciences building in Washington, D.C., under a mural of Prometheus inscribed “hearken to the miseries that beset mankind” – a fitting setting for the celebration of a career spent fighting an ancient disease of the poor.
Every year, the Sabin Vaccine Institute recognizes a distinguished member of the public health community who has made extraordinary contributions in the field of vaccinology or a complementary field. The Sabin Gold Medal Award commemorates the legacy of Dr. Albert B. Sabin, the developer of the oral polio vaccine that has helped bring poliovirus to the brink of eradication. This year, the Sabin Vaccine Institute honored Dr. Holmgren for a career dedicated to improving the lives of others through his innovative cholera vaccine research and his commitment to working in partnership with scientists around the world to develop better vaccines.
“Not only are we honoring Jan’s scientific discoveries, but we are also honoring his signature collegial approach and his constant commitment to collaboration across the scientific community,” said Dr. Bruce Gellin, president of Global Immunization at Sabin. In the 1980s, Dr. Holmgren led the team that developed the world’s first effective oral cholera vaccine. Since then, he and collaborators around the world have strived to improve on that technology to create an effective, stable vaccine that could be used to reach as many people and save as many lives as possible. “Today, the very positive results of these collaborative efforts are being used as health workers respond to cholera outbreaks, including the outbreak happening right now in Somalia,” said Dr. Gellin.
Many of these collaborators filled the room to celebrate their colleague. Dr. John Clemens, recipient of the 2010 Sabin Gold Medal Award and long-time collaborator of Dr. Holmgren, presented the award. “It’s great honor for me to have the opportunity to introduce Dr. Jan Holmgren as the recipient of the 2017 Albert B. Sabin Gold Medal Award, not only because of Jan’s distinguished career, as a professor, scientist, innovator and a global health leader – it’s also an honor because Jan has been my friend and colleague for over 30 years,” said Dr. Clemens.
The large presence of Dr. Holmgren’s current and former collaborators speaks to the importance he has placed on international collaboration throughout his career, and the respect he has earned within the field of vaccine research. “Without the support and active collaboration of many of the people who participated in the room today – and many who could not be here, not least my wife, Ann-Mari Svennerholm – without that, many of the things that I am awarded for today wouldn’t have happened,” said Dr. Holmgren.
Swedish Ambassador to the United States Björn Lyrvall attended the ceremony in recognition of Dr. Holmgren’s accomplishment as the first Swedish scientist to be awarded the Sabin Gold Medal. “Like Dr. Sabin himself broke new ground with an oral vaccine in 1950s, you, Dr. Holmgren, have contributed to the global community’s efforts to save lives from suffering preventable and treatable diseases,” said Ambassador Lyrvall. “Thank you for bringing your Swedish research to the world.”
It is not only Dr. Holmgren’s research that has led to his distinction as a Sabin Gold Medal Awardee, but also his lifelong commitment to seeing those discoveries benefit the people who need them most. “Jan not only shares Dr. Sabin’s commitment to life-saving research,” said Amy Finan, Sabin CEO, “but also his commitment to working in partnership with scientists around the world to develop better vaccines.”