This year, the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF) is honouring two researchers who have been engaged in virus research for many years and are currently actively working on a vaccine against COVID-19: Gerd Sutter and Stephan Becker receive a prize for their translational infection research, each endowed with 5,000 euros. Due to the pandemic, the prizes were initially awarded online. The award winners will be officially recognised at the DZIF’s annual meeting in 2021.
Prof. Gerd Sutter, Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, and Prof. Stephan Becker, University of Marburg, have been members of the DZIF since its foundation. Both scientists conduct research in the area of “Emerging Infections”, in which they have focussed on particularly dangerous viruses and driven the development of vaccines and antiviral drugs for years. The scientists have created the basis for rapid vaccine development against SARS-CoV-2 in recent years through their development of a vector vaccine against the MERS virus. The translational implementation of research is the focus of their internationally recognised work, and thus the mission of the DZIF.
Prof. Gerd Sutter receives the award in the field of translational clinical infection research. He studied veterinary medicine at the University of Munich, where he received his doctorate in 1990. After a postdoctoral stay at the Laboratory of Viral Diseases at NIAID in Bethesda (MD, USA), he returned to Germany and founded his own work group at Helmholtz Zentrum München (1994-2003), in which he carried out successful vaccine research. His focus was on the MVA virus – a modified, harmless smallpox vaccine virus that he developed into a viral vector. One of these MVA vector viruses now forms the basis for the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine, which is already in clinical testing. Gerd Sutter completed his habilitation at Munich in 1999. From 2003 to 2009, he was also responsible for the evaluation and licensing of virus vaccines as Director and Professor at the Paul Ehrlich Institute. Since 2009, Gerd Sutter has headed the Chair for Virology at the Institute for Infection Medicine and Zoonoses in the Veterinary Science Department of the University of Munich. Today, he dedicates his expertise in particular to translational infection research, and has brought several vaccine candidates to clinical trial.
Prof. Stephan Becker receives the award in the field of translational basic infection research. He is a pharmacist and started his scientific career with a PhD in 1988. In 1995 he became Group Leader at the Institute for Virology of the Philipps University of Marburg, where he received his habilitation in 2000. He headed a work group on highly pathogenic viruses at the Robert Koch Institute for two years and was appointed Director of the Institute for Virology at the Philipps University of Marburg at the end of 2007. His research focusses mainly on the biology and pathogenesis of new and emerging zoonotic RNA viruses and the development of vaccines. He is involved in vaccine development against the Ebola virus, the MERS coronavirus and SARS coronaviruses. Stephan Becker coordinates the research area “Emerging Infections” at the DZIF and is significantly involved in the ongoing vaccination studies against the new coronavirus, as well as in the development of virus-neutralising antibodies.