2021 Hansen Family Award goes to Professor Kai Johnsson

The Director of the Chemical Biology Department at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg receives the award in recognition of his ground-breaking work / Four young scientists are presented with the Early Excellence in Science Award / Werner Baumann: “Breakthrough innovation at the intersection of biology, chemistry and artificial intelligence”

The Bayer Foundation has presented the Hansen Family Award, complete with its prize money of EUR 75,000, to Professor Kai Johnsson. The research scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research received the award in recognition of his ground-breaking work in establishing various approaches to protein labeling in living cells that have enabled far-reaching advances in chemical and cell biology.

Protein labeling (e.g. using SNAP-tag) involves labeling cell proteins with a fluorescent dye, thereby enabling researchers to observe how proteins interact in the living cell and where in the cell they are located. Moreover, depending on the particular application, different dyes can be used, which is of major importance in a number of areas including super-resolution fluorescence microscopy. Thanks to the introduction of these methods, cellular research scientists can work with greater precision and gain better insight into the way cells work.

In his opening speech, Bayer AG CEO Werner Baumann commended Professor Johnsson and the scientific contributions made by his work on biological and chemical questions. “We see breakthrough innovation happening at the intersection of biology, chemistry and artificial intelligence – all highly relevant disciplines for the future development of sustainable solutions in the fields of health and nutrition,” said Baumann, adding that such innovations would help us develop drugs faster, provide individualized health solutions, and not only treat diseases but possibly even cure them in the future. They could also make it possible to further develop sustainable food systems and achieve ambitious CO2 reduction targets.

Johnsson has been Director of the Chemical Biology Department at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg since 2017. Prior to taking up this appointment, he was Professor at the Institute of Chemical Sciences and Engineering at EFPL, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne. He is also a co-founder of several companies. With Spirochrome, he commercialized fluorescent probes for cell biology, while with Covalys, he marketed SNAP-tag and other protein labeling methods. Professor Johnsson’s entrepreneurial activities are playing a key part in making use of the methods he developed more widespread.

As Professor Patrick Cramer, Professor at the Max-Planck Institute for Multidisciplinary Sciences and Director of the Molecular Biology Department, emphasized in his congratulatory speech: “Kai Johnsson is a world-leading research scientist in chemical biology. The methods he has developed for the targeted labeling of proteins in living cells have revolutionized cell biology. His latest work on the development of biosensors has huge potential to benefit patients with certain metabolic diseases.”

Early Excellence in Science Awards 2020

In addition to the Hansen Family Award, the Bayer Foundation also presented the Bayer Early Excellence in Science Awards (EESAs). Monika Lessl, Executive Director of the Bayer Foundation, presented the EESAs to the prizewinners.

The award in the Biology category went to Dr. Marieke Oudelaar (Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen) for her outstanding contributions in the development of methods to characterize the 3D structure of the genome and her work on the interaction between gene-regulatory elements at specific gene loci.

Dr. Connor W. Coley (Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States) was the winner of the award in the Chemistry category in recognition of his pioneering work in applying machine learning to screening, and on the design and automated synthesis of novel small organic molecules with therapeutic potential.

In the Medical Sciences category, the award went to Dr. Dasha Nelidova (Institute of Molecular and Clinical Ophthalmology Basel) for developing a revolutionary therapeutic approach to restore light sensitivity in the eye retina of patients suffering from age-related macular degeneration by combining gene therapy and nanotechnolgy.

The Hansen Family Award
The Hansen Family Award is one of the most prestigious scientific accolades in German-speaking countries. The Hansen Family Award honors scientists who have conducted pioneering research in innovative areas of biology and medicine. The award was established in 2000 by Professor Kurt Hansen, former Chairman of the Board of Management and Supervisory Board at Bayer AG. The former Chairman of the Supervisory Board, who died in 2002, promoted intensive contact with academia and supported the university education of up-and-coming scientists.

The award winners were selected by the Bayer Foundation’s Science Council, which is made up of the following members: Professor Edith Heard (Director General of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg), Professor Regine Kahmann (Director of the Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology in Marburg), Professor Lothar Willmitzer (Director of the Molecular Plant Physiology Department at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology in Golm), Professor Dirk Trauner (Janice Cutler Chair in Chemistry and Professor of Neuroscience and Physiology at New York University in the United States) and Professor Patrick Cramer (Director of the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen and Chairman of the Bayer Foundation’s Board of Trustees).

About Bayer
Bayer is a global enterprise with core competencies in the life science fields of health care and nutrition. Its products and services are designed to help people and planet thrive by supporting efforts to master the major challenges presented by a growing and aging global population. Bayer is committed to drive sustainable development and generate a positive impact with its businesses. At the same time, the Group aims to increase its earning power and create value through innovation and growth. The Bayer brand stands for trust, reliability and quality throughout the world. In fiscal 2021, the Group employed around 100,000 people and had sales of 44.1 billion euros. R&D expenses before special items amounted to 5.3 billion euros.

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