Houston, TX—JANUARY 23, 2023— The Welch Foundation, one of the nation’s largest sources of private funding for basic chemistry research, today announced that Dr. Jason S. McLellan is the 2023 recipient of the Norman Hackerman Award in Chemical Research. Having made significant scientific contributions in chemistry and biochemistry, McLellan is being recognized as a ‘rising star’ in his field.
“Dr. McLellan has made extraordinary accomplishments and is well deserving of this award,” said Douglas L. Foshee, Director and Chair of The Welch Foundation. “His leadership and work surrounding innovative vaccine design helped give over half of the U.S. population protection against COVID-19.”
As a professor of molecular biosciences and Welch Chair in Chemistry at The University of Texas at Austin, Jason McLellan has distinguished himself as a pioneer in structure-based vaccine design. In 2010, McLellan initiated a collaboration with Barney Graham to use atomic-resolution structures to aid the design of a vaccine for Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). McLellan’s work formed the basis for the successful phase three trial of a stabilized RSV F protein vaccine. As an effective RSV vaccine has been sought for more than 50 years with multiple failed trials, McLellan’s efforts here are particularly noteworthy.
When McLellan began his own lab at Dartmouth, he shifted his attention to coronaviruses. McLellan and collaborators determined two coronavirus spike protein structures and used them to design stabilized forms of the spike proteins with enhanced ability to elicit neutralizing antibodies. This ideally positioned him to apply his work during the pandemic in 2020 to the coronavirus strain, SARS-CoV-2. His stabilized form of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein forms the basis for all SARS-CoV-2 vaccines approved in the U.S including those from Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Jonson and Novavax.
“Every American that has been vaccinated against COVID-19 has directly benefitted from Jason McLellan’s work,” said Catherine J. Murphy, Chair, The Welch Foundation Scientific Advisory Board. “His innovative research makes him an ideal recipient of the Hackerman Award.”
“It is an honor to join the extraordinary list of fellow scientists who have previously received the Hackerman Award,” added McLellan. “I look forward to continuing my efforts in biochemical vaccine design and working toward future vaccine development.”
After receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry from Wayne State University, Dr. McLellan went on to earn his Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He started his career as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the National Institutes of Health in 2008. In the summer of 2013 McLellan became an Assistant Professor of Biochemistry at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine. In 2018, McLellan started his career at The University of Texas at Austin as an Associate Professor of Molecular Biosciences and became a Professor of Molecular Biosciences in 2021. Among his awards and honors, McLellan has been recognized as a Young Investigator in Virology, received the O’Donnell Award in Medicine, was named an outstanding alumnus at Wayne State University and the Texas Innovator of the Year in 2021. He has received recognition from the Charles H. Hood Foundation, American Crystallographic Association, Blavatnik National, AAAS and the International Society for Antiviral Research. Dr. McLellan is Associate Editor of Science Advances.
The Norman Hackerman Award in Chemical Research was established by The Welch Foundation to honor Norman Hackerman, its Scientific Advisory Board chair from 1982 to 2006. The award recognizes the accomplishments of chemical scientists in Texas who are early in their careers. It is designed to encourage scientists embarking on careers dedicated to increasing our fundamental understanding of chemistry. Upon accepting the award, Dr. McLellan will receive $100,000, as well as a bronze sculpture to commemorate the occasion.
Since 1954, the Houston-based Welch Foundation has contributed more than $1.1 billion to the advancement of chemistry through research grants, departmental research grants, endowed chairs and support for other chemistry-related programs in Texas.
For more information on the Foundation and a list of previous Hackerman Award recipients, please visit www.welch1.org.
Laura Jones, Dancie Perugini Ware Public Relations