IRVINE, Calif. — Philip Felgner is one of seven scholars worldwide to be honored with Spain's prestigious Princess of Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific Research to recognize their contributions to developing COVID-19 vaccines.
The UC Irvine professor in Physiology and Biophysics is the director of the campus' Vaccine Research and Development Center.
He has dedicated the past three decades of his life to developing the technology that went into building the COVID-19 vaccine.
"We envisioned that the technology that we were working on then could do something like this. But there were technical problems that actually prevented it from happening," Felgner said.
His tireless work has laid the foundation for the mRNA vaccines — the type of vaccination that has been highly effective in combating the coronavirus. After years in the lab, countless tests and trials, it wasn't until February that Felgner saw a shocking immune response induced by the vaccine.
"We saw a spectacular result that was almost unbelievable. We were just shocked to see a vaccine that was working," Felgner said.
But the work continues in the UCI lab. Now Felgner and students continue to test blood samples for antibodies to COVID-19 and other viruses.
Felgner's work hasn't just delivered a vaccine; it's inspiring the next generation of scientists. Aarti Jain feels lucky to have been in a lab during this moment in history.
"That is the inspiring thing. The dedication of my mentor and all these scientists, they have this never-giving-up spirit. And even in my most hardest days, I would say I'm really, really inspired by that spirit," Jain said.
"Here we are 35 years later, and we're measuring this wonderful outcome to this spectacular vaccine. Vaccinologists weren't expecting this kind of performance," Felgner said.
Vaccinologists like Felenger might not have expected it, but humanity needed it. The relentless dedication to science throughout his life is what makes Philip Felgner a SoCal hero.