The Lasker Foundation has awarded its 2021 Lasker~Koshland Special Achievement Award in Medical Science to Caltech's David Baltimore, President Emeritus, Distinguished Professor of Biology, and 1975 Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine. Widely regarded as America's top biomedical research prize, the Lasker Awards carry an honorarium of $250,000 for each category.
"David Baltimore has been an inspiration to generations of scientists as a pathbreaking researcher, a motivating educator, an influential mentor, a forceful academic leader, and a scholar committed to illuminating the interface between science and society," says Caltech president Thomas F. Rosenbaum, holder of the Sonja and William Davidow Presidential Chair and professor of physics. "This prestigious recognition by the Lasker Foundation could not be more fitting."
In a press release, the Foundation recognized Baltimore's breakthrough discoveries on retroviruses; the role of the protein nuclear factor kappa B (NF-κB) in inflammation; and recombination-activating gene (RAG) recombinase proteins, which generate antibody diversity. The prize citation also noted Baltimore's cancer research on the Abelson leukemia virus, which led to key insights into chronic myelogenous leukemia, a rare type of bone marrow cancer.
In 1975, Baltimore received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery that viruses with genomes consisting of RNA can copy that RNA into DNA. Later, researchers demonstrated that that DNA can then be inserted into the DNA of a host cell. The discovery modified a central dogma of biology: that genetic information flows only in one direction, from DNA to RNA to protein. Baltimore shared the prize with former Caltech faculty member Renato Dulbecco and Howard Temin (PhD '60).
"I am deeply grateful to receive this award from the Lasker Foundation," says Baltimore. "To be recognized for my 60-year career in science is a credit to the great education I had, the extraordinary institutions at which I have worked, the support for my work by the United States government and the philanthropic community, and the remarkable group of trainees who populated my laboratory."
Baltimore joined Caltech as its seventh president in 1997, prior to which he was founding director of MIT's Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research and president of Rockefeller University. He participated in the National Institutes of Health's Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee in the 1970s and 1980s; co-chaired a commission that helped shape America's response to HIV/AIDS in the 1980s; and, more recently, led summits exploring the benefits and risks of CRISPR gene-editing technology.
Baltimore's numerous honors include the 1999 National Medal of Science, election to the National Academy of Sciences in 1974, and membership in the Royal Society of London and the French Academy of Sciences.