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of the chemical sciences
Robert Langer, Institute Professor at MIT, winner of 2019 Dreyfus Prize
photo: Science History Institute / Wikimedia Commons

The Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation has announced that Robert Langer, Institute Professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has won the 2019 Dreyfus Prize in the Chemical Sciences. The biennial Prize, which includes a $250,000 award, is conferred this year in Chemistry in Support of Human Health. The award ceremony will be held at MIT on September 26 and will include a lecture by Langer.

Langer is honored for discoveries and inventions of materials for drug delivery systems and tissue engineering that have had a transformative impact on human health through the chemical sciences. He has been cited as one of history’s most prolific inventors in medicine and biochemistry. The drug delivery technologies that he invented have been lauded as the cornerstone of that industry, positively impacting hundreds of millions of people worldwide. The impact and influence of his work is vast, and his papers have been cited in scientific publications more than any other engineer in history.

Langer’s work on drug delivery is at the interface of biotechnology and materials chemistry, with a strong focus on the study and development of polymers to deliver drugs continuously and at controlled rates for prolonged periods. His innovations in drug delivery have been translated into commercial products that have had a remarkable benefit to human health and include brain and prostate cancer, macular degeneration, and a variety of mental health disorders including schizophrenia and opioid addition. His pioneering work in tissue engineering (with Joseph Vacanti) has led to the creation of new skin, cartilage, bone, corneas, and blood vessels in humans. His leadership in both the underlying science and its applications has given rise to entirely new fields of the chemical sciences and engineering.

Langer is further renowned as a mentor, with nearly 1,000 former students and postdocs becoming established leaders in academia, industry, and government.

“There is no greater benefit that the chemical sciences provide to society than the many profound contributions to the science and technology of human health,” stated Matthew Tirrell, Chair of the Dreyfus Foundation Scientific Affairs Committee and Director of the Institute for Molecular Engineering at the University of Chicago. “Bob Langer created two rich fields at the intersection of chemistry and medicine: controlled release materials for delivery of therapeutic macromolecules and tissue engineering. His discoveries have been translated, often by Langer himself, to many products that profoundly impact human health. In a diverse field of chemists and chemical engineers with many powerful contributors, the enormous body and influence of Bob Langer’s work stands out in a singular way.”

Robert Langer has received many prizes and awards, including the National Medal of Science, the Priestley Medal, the Kyoto Prize in Advanced Technology, the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Life Science, the Wolf Prize, the Charles Stark Draper Award, the Lemelson-MIT Prize for Invention and Innovation, and numerous others. About 400 companies have licensed or sublicensed his inventions and over 40 companies have been spun out of the Langer lab.

Henry C. Walter, President of the Dreyfus Foundation, said, “The Dreyfus brothers, entrepreneurs in the chemical sciences, would surely have marveled at Bob Langer’s remarkable creative innovation and productivity. We are proud to honor his extraordinary achievements with the 2019 Dreyfus Prize.”

“It’s always been a dream for me to be able to use my scientific background to help prolong life and relieve human suffering. When I look at the remarkable individuals in chemistry and chemical engineering around the world, including the people who have won the Dreyfus Prize previously, receiving this award is truly humbling,” said Langer.

The Dreyfus Prize in the Chemical Sciences, initiated in 2009, is conferred in a specific area of chemistry in each cycle. It is the highest honor of the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation. The Foundation was established in 1946 by chemist, inventor, and businessman Camille Dreyfus, with the mission to advance the science of chemistry, chemical engineering, and related sciences as a means of improving human relations and circumstances throughout the world.