Washington, D.C. – The Sabin Vaccine Institute (Sabin) today announced that it has awarded its annual Albert B. Sabin Gold Medal to Barney S. Graham, MD, PhD, deputy director, Vaccine Research Center and chief of the Viral Pathogenesis Laboratory at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health. Sabin has also granted the Rising Star Award to Nginache Nampota-Nkomba, MBBS, MSc, a research physician and clinical research site leader at Blantyre Malaria Project in Malawi.
The Gold Medal, now in its 28th year, is Sabin’s highest scientific honor, given each year to a distinguished member of the global health community who has made extraordinary contributions to vaccinology or a complementary field. Past award recipients include leaders of vaccinology and vaccine advocacy such as Drs. D.A. Henderson, William Foege and Carol Baker.
“We are pleased to present the Gold Medal to Dr. Graham,” said Amy Finan, Sabin’s chief executive officer. “He has made major contributions to vaccinology over three decades as a researcher, mentor and vaccine advocate. Dr. Graham’s years of work, as well as his scientific know-how and sheer determination, played a critical role in accelerating the development of multiple COVID-19 vaccines. And his dedication to make vaccines available to under-served populations exemplifies Dr. Sabin’s legacy in harnessing innovation for good and the belief that everyone, everywhere should have access to lifesaving vaccines.”
Dr. Graham, an immunologist, virologist and clinical trials physician, is a pioneer in the field of structure-based vaccine design and a thought leader on pandemic preparedness. When the SARS-CoV-2 sequence was first published, Dr. Graham’s lab identified the relevant stabilizing mutations within hours and sent sequences to a commercial partner for manufacturing within days—these contributions were key to the development of COVID-19 vaccines.
Graham has led the development and testing of new vaccines for many global pathogens, including respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), influenza, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), Ebola, West Nile, chikungunya, Zika, SARS and MERS.
“It is a great honor to be associated with Dr. Sabin and a privilege to be on the list of all the previous recipients,” said Dr. Graham. “I am very grateful to all those who have helped me on my journey and to my early mentors for their generosity and inspiration.”
Sabin also presents the Rising Star Award to Dr. Nginache Nampota-Nkomba for her extraordinary leadership at Blantyre Malaria Project, a center of excellence in infectious disease research in Malawi established as a partnership between the Universities of Malawi, Maryland and Michigan State. The Rising Star Award honors an early-career professional who has demonstrated leadership in and commitment to the field of immunization.
Dr. Nampota-Nkomba works to develop and implement community-based research to inform immunization solutions in Malawi and on a global scale. She is the on-site investigator for a clinical trial of a novel typhoid conjugate vaccine in children, and also investigates HIV/AIDS and malaria in vulnerable communities.
“With Sabin’s Rising Star Award, we aim to recognize an early-career researcher whose work shows tremendous promise to advance immunization for the next generation,” said Amy Finan. “Dr. Nampota-Nkomba’s exceptional leadership in vaccine clinical research and her dedication to preventing infectious diseases in sub-Saharan Africa make her the perfect recipient of this award. We are delighted to recognize her.”
“I’ve always been passionate about preventing infectious diseases. To me, vaccine research is exciting because I am not only preventing disease in one patient, but through vaccination, I’m able to prevent disease in a larger population,” said Dr. Nampota-Nkomba. “I am so grateful to receive this award. It means a lot to me, and also to Malawi.”
The 2021 Albert B. Sabin Gold Medal was made possible in part by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and sponsorship by Bharat Biotech, GlaxoSmithKline, National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, Novavax, Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp., a subsidiary of Merck & Co., Inc., Pfizer and Takeda Vaccines, Inc.
Sponsors have no role in Sabin’s program design, development or outputs, including findings and analysis.
About Barney Graham
Dr. Graham serves as deputy director of the NIAID Vaccine Research Center (VRC) and assists the director in establishing and focusing the scientific direction for the VRC as a premier intramural research organization. As chief of the Viral Pathogenesis Laboratory, Dr. Graham also leads the development efforts for COVID-19 vaccines and universal influenza vaccines. In addition, he supports VRC product development through strategic advice on vaccine design as well as pre-clinical and clinical evaluation.
Dr. Graham is an immunologist, virologist and clinical trials physician whose primary interests are viral pathogenesis, immunity and vaccine development. His laboratory is focused on respiratory viral pathogens, pandemic preparedness and emerging viral diseases. He applies structural biology, protein engineering and other new technologies to create vaccines for unmet needs and emerging threats advancing the principles of precision vaccinology. He has been involved in the clinical evaluation of candidate vaccines for more than 30 years and has an ongoing interest in science education and expanding research opportunities for people underrepresented in scientific fields.
About Nginache Nampota-Nkomba
Dr. Nginache Nampota-Nkomba is a research physician, clinical research site leader and vaccinologist. She leads a research team at Blantyre Malaria Project (BMP), a center of excellence in infectious disease research in Malawi established as a multiversity partnership between the Universities of Malawi, Maryland (US) and Michigan State (US).
Her passion for the prevention of infectious diseases developed when she worked at the largest government referral hospital in her home country of Malawi, where despite her best efforts, she lost patients to preventable diseases. She joined BMP with the aim of improving the health of her fellow Malawians and people worldwide by implementing high quality, locally conceived and relevant evidence-generating research. Dr. Nampota-Nkomba is the on-site investigator for a clinical trial studying the immunogenicity and safety of a novel typhoid conjugate vaccine in African children. She also investigates HIV/AIDS and malaria in vulnerable populations, including studies of malaria prophylaxis in people living with HIV, the impact of HIV on infant immunity and antimalarial and antiretroviral drug interactions.
About the Sabin Vaccine Institute
The Sabin Vaccine Institute is a leading advocate for expanding vaccine access and uptake globally, advancing vaccine research and development, and amplifying vaccine knowledge and innovation. Unlocking the potential of vaccines through partnership, Sabin has built a robust ecosystem of funders, innovators, implementers, practitioners, policy makers and public stakeholders to advance its vision of a future free from preventable diseases. As a non-profit with more than two decades of experience, Sabin is committed to finding solutions that last and extending the full benefits of vaccines to all people, regardless of who they are or where they live. At Sabin, we believe in the power of vaccines to change the world. For more information, visit www.sabin.org and follow us on Twitter, @SabinVaccine.