Professor Jason McLellan, the newly appointed Robert A. Welch Chair in Chemistry and an associate professor of molecular biosciences, has become an international star in the sciences after his team developed the spike protein that serves as the basis for the Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccines. “This guy is a genius,” a senior program officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said of McLellan in the New York Times. “He should be proud of this huge thing he’s done for humanity.”
With the support of Welch Foundation funding, McLellan, Professor Jennifer Maynard and Associate Professor Ilya Finkelstein have gone on to develop an even newer molecular design used in the NDV-HXP-S vaccine. It’s expected to be even more effective — and easier to produce — than current-generation vaccines, changing the game for low- and medium-income countries.
Finkelstein was recently recognized with the Welch Foundation’s Norman Hackerman Award in Chemical Research, a yearly honor recognizing Texas’ rising stars in the sciences. Mostly known for his team’s work to improve the efficacy and safety of gene editing, Dr. Finkelstein pivoted for UT’s COVID-19 vaccine collaboration.
“His creativity in the lab continues to move the field forward,” said Peter B. Dervan, chair of the Welch Foundation Scientific Advisory Board. “Dr. Finkelstein’s recent COVID-19 research also shines light on the importance of ongoing and proactive basic chemical research.”
“This is such a momentous time for our lab and fellow UT researchers,” said Finkelstein. “I look forward to continuing our efforts developing an even better understanding of the coronavirus as well as our focus on gene editing.”