2008 Millennium Technology Prize
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, biotechnology company Moderna, founded by Dr Robert Langer, has become a household name. With over 1,500 scientific papers and at least 1,400 pending and granted patents to his name, Dr Langer is one of the most prolific scientist-entrepreneurs. In the last 35 years, he has founded more than 40 biotechnology firms with the help of fellow researchers, entrepreneurs, clinicians and investors.
Dr Langer is one of the world’s most-cited researchers, and the most cited engineer, and has received over 220 major awards, including the Millennium Technology Prize, Portugal’s Medal of Science, the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, the Kyoto Prize, the Kabiller Prize, the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences and most recently, the International Balzan Prize in 2022.
When he was 43, he became the youngest person in history to be elected to the three National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. He is also one of only three living people to have received both the US National Medal of Science and National Medal of Technology and Innovation.
Dr Langer’s research journey began in the 1970s, when he developed 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.
The groundbreaking project was the result of a collaboration between Dr Langer and medical scientist, Dr Judah Folkman. At the time, Dr Folkman was a surgeon and served as a mentor to Dr Langer. When Dr Folkman mentioned his controversial theory that stopping blood vessels could potentially stop cancer, Dr Langer jumped at the chance to marry his skills as a chemical engineer with medicine. He was eventually able to develop tiny particles that could deliver large molecules like blood vessel inhibitors.
As a leader and mentor himself, Dr Langer is dedicated to carrying Dr Folkman’s positive and inspiring leadership style through to his own students and staff. He has since worked with students from all over the world who have gone on to become professors and entrepreneurs in their own right.
Dr Langer is now one of just twelve Institute Professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the highest distinction awarded to a faculty member, and his academic biomedical engineering laboratory at MIT is the largest in the world.
His lab is currently working on drug delivery technologies that rely on tiny particles bursting 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.