Dr. Lerner was cited by the 800-year-old British university for his research “in the field of catalytic antibodies which has shown that antibodies can be employed as enzymes—research which has relevance for such conditions as atherosclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease.”
Joining Dr. Lerner among the nine honorary degree recipients this year were former President Jimmy Carter, author A.S. Byatt, pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim, and two other scientists, Lord May of Oxford, a mathematical biologist, and Professor Chintamani Nagesa Ramachandra, a chemist.
“I am deeply honored and very grateful that research accomplished by my lab at The Scripps Research Institute has been recognized by this most prestigious of ancient and modern universities,” Dr. Lerner commented on receiving his degree. “The Skaggs Oxford Scholarship program, which permits outstanding young Ph.D. candidates the opportunity to study at both The Scripps Research Institute and Oxford University, binds together these two world-class centers of learning. This wonderful event today unites us even more.”
The honorary degrees were awarded at “Encaenia,” a colorful and tradition-marked festival of dedication and renewal held since 1670 in the university’s Sheldonian Theatre. This morning, Heads of Colleges and other university dignitaries assembled in full academic dress, then walked in procession to the theater. Dr. Lerner and the other notables receiving honorary degrees waited in the Divinity School where they signed their names in the Honorary Degrees Book before being escorted into the theater. Each honoree was introduced by the Public Orator in a speech in Latin, then admitted to his or her new degree by the university’s Chancellor. The Orator delivered a speech on the events of the past year and commemorated the university’s benefactors.
About Dr. Richard A. Lerner
Dr. Richard A. Lerner's 40-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, one of the world’s largest independent, non-profit biomedical research organizations. His work spans a wide range of seemingly disparate discoveries, from unique insights into protein and peptide structure to the identification of a sleep-inducing lipid. He has been widely recognized by numerous prestigious societies and organizations in the United States and abroad. One of his accomplishments, and that for which he is perhaps most well known, is groundbreaking advances in the field of catalytic antibodies, showing that antibodies can be employed as enzymes (work conducted simultaneously with Scripps Research Professor Peter Schultz, then at the University of California, Berkeley). This work permitted 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 organization particular strength at the border between chemistry and biology. Emphasizing 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 recognizing 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 companies, which have given the institute the opportunity to recruit, build, expand, and remain state-of-the-art in facilities and instrumentation.
Under Dr. Lerner’s leadership, in 2003, the institute announced plans for a major science center in Palm Beach County, Florida, focusing on biomedical research, technology development, and drug design. The 350,000-square-foot Phase One of Scripps Florida is currently under construction and will open in early 2009.
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 chair of the Department of Molecular Biology of the institute from 1982-1986 prior to assuming the presidency of the organization.
Dr. Lerner, now Lita Annenberg Hazen Professor of Immunochemistry, Cecil H. and Ida M. Green Chair in Chemistry, and member of the Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology at Scripps Research, has received numerous prizes and awards. These include 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 College 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, Windaus-Medal/Award, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Göttingen Germany in 1999, Honorary Doctorate of Science Award Doctor Scientiarum Honoris Causa, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Technion City, Haifa, Israel in 2001, Scientist of the Year Award, ARCS Foundation, San Diego, CA, in 2002, President’s Medal, University of California, in 2002, Paul Ehrlich-and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize (Germany) in 2003, Honorary Doctorate Degree, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (Israel) in 2003, Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from Florida Atlantic University in 2004, AAAS Fellow in 2005, DART/NYU Biotechnology Achievement Award in Basic Biotechnology in 2005, and Distinguished Visiting Scientist at IBM T.J. Watson Research Center in 2006.
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, Bioorganic and Medicinal Chemistry Letters, Drug Targeting and Delivery, 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 USA in 1991; Member, Scientific Policy Advisory Committee, Uppsala 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, California Council on Science and Technology Board of Directors, 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; Member, Editorial Advisory Board for Accounts of Chemical Research Journal, Los Angeles, CA, 1998-2001; Member, International Board of Governors, The Peres Center for Peace, Tel Aviv, Israel, 1998; Chairman, Governor’s Council on Bioscience, Governor Gray Davis, Sacramento, CA, 1999; Member, The U.S. Department of Energy Biological and Environmental Research Advisory Committee, Washington, DC, 1999; Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Cambridge, MA, 2000.
About The Scripps Research Institute
The Scripps Research Institute is one of the world's largest independent, non-profit biomedical research organizations, at the forefront of basic biomedical science that seeks to comprehend the most fundamental processes of life. Scripps Research is internationally recognized for its discoveries in immunology, molecular and cellular biology, chemistry, neurosciences, autoimmune, cardiovascular, and infectious diseases, and synthetic vaccine development. Established in its current configuration in 1961, it employs approximately 3,000 scientists, postdoctoral fellows, scientific and other technicians, doctoral degree graduate students, and administrative and technical support personnel. Scripps Research is headquartered in La Jolla, California. It also includes Scripps Florida, whose researchers focus on basic biomedical science, drug discovery, and technology development. Currently operating from temporary facilities in Jupiter, Scripps Florida will move to its permanent campus in 2009.