Jan Vilcek, MD, PhD, Honored At White House Awards Ceremony
Vilcek One of Eleven to Receive Prestigious National Medal of Technology And Innovation
President Barack Obama honored Jan Vilcek, MD, PhD, professor of microbiology at NYU Langone Medical Center, and co-inventor of the rheumatoid arthritis drug Remicade®, with a prestigious National Medal of Technology and Innovation during an awards ceremony held at the White House last Friday. The medal recognizes those who have made lasting contributions to America’s competitiveness and quality of life and helped strengthen the nation’s technological workforce. This year 11 individuals received this medal, the highest honor bestowed by the United States government upon scientists, engineers, and inventors.
Photo credit: Ryan K. Morris/National
Science & Technology Medals Foundation
Dr. Vilcek received this award for his pioneering work on interferons and for his role in the development of therapeutic monoclonal antibodies. A monoclonal antibody generated in Dr. Vilcek’s laboratory by he and his collegue Junming Le, PhD, adjunct associate professor of microbiology at NYU Langone, was developed with the biotechnology company Centocor (now Janssen Biotech, Inc.), into a drug that has become known as infliximab or Remicade ®. To date, Remicade® has been used to treat more than 1.6 million patients worldwide.
“I am happy and feel greatly honored to receive this award,” said Dr. Vilcek. “I am grateful that my work in the field of interferon and cytokine research, done over the span of several decades, has been recognized in such an important way.”
Dr. Vilcek joined NYU Langone at the age of 31 as an assistant professor of microbiology. He devoted his entire career to the study of a group of natural regulators of the immune system called cytokines, and much of it to the study of a class of cytokines called interferons. He has made contributions to the understanding of the nature of interferons that helped in the development of their clinical applications. Dr. Vilcek and his colleagues were the first to show that there are two distinct families of interferons. Alpha interferon is used to treat Hepatitis B and C, and beta interferon is used to treat multiple sclerosis.
In the early 1980s, Dr. Vilcek with his colleagues took up the study of a cytokine called TNF, at the time still poorly understood. The recognition that overproduction of TNF can contribute to the development of many diseases encouraged Dr. Vilcek and Dr. Le to generate the monoclonal antibody that – in collaboration with Centocor – resulted in the development of Remicade ®. Remicade ® was the first anti-TNF treatment approved for use in patients and the first TNF inhibitor to be approved in three different therapeutic areas: gastroenterology, rheumatology and dermatology. The success of Remicade® has spurred the development of other anti-TNF agents that are now being used to treat a variety of inflammatory conditions including Crohn's disease, rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, psoriatic arthritis, psoriasis, and ulcerative colitis.
Dr. Vilcek and his wife Marica F. Vilcek have generously given more than $120 million to NYU Langone Medical Center to fund scholarships, research, and the new medical student residence hall at NYU School of Medicine. Their ongoing support is an outward display of their deep gratitude for the many opportunities the medical center has provided Dr. Vilcek as his intellectual home.
Dr. Vilcek, a native of Bratislava, Slovakia, received his medical degree from the Comenius University Medical School in Bratislava in 1957, and his Ph.D. from the Institute of Virology, Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences, also based in Bratislava, in 1962.
The National Medal of Technology and Innovation was created by statute in 1980 and is administered for the White House by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Patent and Trademark Office. By highlighting the national importance of technological innovation, the medal is also meant to inspire future generations of Americans to prepare for and pursue technical careers to keep America at the forefront of global technology and economic leadership.
Nominees are selected by a distinguished independent committee representing the private and public sectors. Dr. Vilcek is being recognized for his pioneering work on interferons and monoclonal antibodies.
Deborah (DJ) Sabalusky