3rd Rodney Porter Memorial Lecture

Dr Richard Lerner
(Director of the Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, USA)

Dr Richard A. Lerner’s 30-year scientific career is particularly significant, not only for the broad scope of his achievements in several diverse areas of biomedical research, but for his leadership and vision in concurrently directing the totality of scientific activities at The Scripps Research Institute, the country’s largest private, non-profit biomedical research organisation. His work spans a wide range of seemingly disparate discoveries, from unique insights into protein and peptide structure to the recent identification of a sleep-inducing lipid. He has been widely recognised by numerous prestigious societies and organisations in the U.S. and abroad.

One of his most recent accomplishments, and that for which he is perhaps most well known, is the groundbreaking work of converting antibodies into enzymes, permitting the catalysis of chemical reactions considered impossible to achieve by classical chemical procedures. While it has taken enzymes acting on natural biological systems millions of years of evolution to reach their present level of efficiency, antibodies can be produced overnight, for obtaining an almost limitless variety of products – beyond natural ones – with an efficiency that may exceed that of natural enzymes.

Dr Lerner’s prolific scientific output is accomplished with his simultaneous appointment as President of The Scripps Research Institute. His visionary leadership has kept the Institute at the frontier of science in several explicit and highly focused areas, giving the organisation particular strength at the border between chemistry and biology. Emphasising interdisciplinary collaboration that would be unlikely, if not impossible, at many major U.S. universities, Dr Lerner embraces the notion of providing the faculty with a significant degree of freedom and the full range of technical resources to remain at the cutting edge. And recognising the trend of shrinking Federal resources for science as far back as the early 1980s, Dr Lerner has encouraged the formation of large-scale industrial collaboration agreements with major pharmaceutical industries, which have given the Institute the opportunity to recruit, build, expand, and remain start-of-the-art in facilities and instrumentation.

Dr Lerner graduated from Northwestern University and Stanford Medical School. He interned at Palo Alto Stanford Hospital, and received postdoctoral training at Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation in experimental pathology. Since 1970, he has held staff appointments at Wistar Institute in Philadelphia and at the Research Institute of Scripps Clinic (renamed The Scripps Research Institute) in La Jolla. He served as Chairman of the Department of Molecular Biology of the Institute from 1982 – 1986, prior to assuming the presidency of the organisation.

Dr Lerner has received numerous prizes and awards, including the Parke Davis Award in 1978, John A. Muntz Memorial Prize in 1990, San Marino Prize in 1990, The Burroughs Wellcome Fund and the FASEB, Wellcome Visiting Professor Award in 1990, the Collège de France Lectureship in 1991, Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award in 1991, the Tenth Annual Jeanette Piperno Memorial Award in 1991, Sixteenth Annual CIBA-GEIGY Drew Award in Biomedical Research in 1992, Humboldt Research Award in 1994, and the Wolf Prize in Chemistry in 1994 – 1995, the California Scientist of the Year Award in 1996, and the Coley Award for Distinguished Research in Basic and Tumor Immunology in 1999.

In addition to Charter Membership in the American Society for Virology, Dr Lerner holds memberships in the American Society for Experimental Pathology, American Society of Microbiology, New York Academy of Sciences, Biophysical Society, and the Pluto Society. He is on the editorial boards for the Journal of Virology, Molecular Biology and Medicine, Vaccine, In Vivo, Peptide Research, Bioorganic and Medicinal Chemistry Letters, Drug Targeting and Delivery, Senior Contributing Editor to PNAS and Chemistry and Biology, Bioorganic and Medicinal Chemistry, Molecular Medicine, Catalysis Technology and Angewandte Chemie.

Dr Lerner was elected Foreign Member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1985; Member, National Academy of Science U.S.A. in 1991; Member, Scientific Policy Advisory Committee, Uppdala University, Uppsala, Sweden in 1991; Member, Scientific Advisory Board, Economic Development Board, Singapore in 1991; Trustee, The Neurosciences Research Foundation, Inc. in 1992; Member, Advisory Board, Chemical & Engineering News in 1994; Member, ETH Institute of biotechnology Advisory Board, Zurich, in 1994; Member, Stanford Linear Accelerator Center Scientific Policy Committee, Stanford, CA, 1995 – 1998; Member, Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology Scientific Advisory Board in 1996; Member, College of Chemistry Advisory Board, University of California, Berkeley, 1996 – 1997; Member, Advisory Steering Group for Chemistry, California State University, 1996; and Member, Academic Committee of the Board of Governors of Technion Israel Institute of Technology, 1998.