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National Academy of Inventors names Rafi Ahmed as Fellow

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Holly Korschun

Rafi Ahmed, director of the Emory Vaccine Center and a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar

The National Academy of Inventors (NAI) has named Rafi Ahmed, PhD, as an NAI 2018 Fellow. Ahmed is director of the Emory Vaccine Center, a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Microbiology and Immunology in Emory University School of Medicine, investigator in the Emory Center for AIDS Research (CFAR) and a member of the Winship Cancer Institute.

Election to NAI Fellow status is a high professional distinction bestowed to academic inventors who have demonstrated a prolific spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development and the welfare of society.

Ahmed is a world-renowned virologist and immunologist whose work has been highly influential in shaping current understanding of immune memory, with the long-term goal of developing new vaccines and other strategies for prevention and treatment of disease. His research has led to a total of 143 issued patents worldwide and 81 patent applications pending.

His work in antigen-specific immunity, including the mechanisms underlying T cell exhaustion in chronic viral infections, has been game changing in advancing research and clinical care. His pivotal 2006 paper in Nature, cited nearly 3,000 times in the medical literature, describes the identification of the inhibitory receptor PD-1 on exhausted T cells, launching a revolution in treating chronic viral infections and cancer.

Ahmed’s research on PD-1 forms the basis of a patent portfolio that includes six issued US patents, 172 issued foreign patents, with dozens more applications still pending. The portfolio was licensed to a major pharmaceutical company and has helped launch its successful PD-1-related program. His research also has led to additional patents and patent applications centered around antibodies to treat infectious disease, including influenza, hepatitis, human papilloma virus and Ebola, among others. These technologies have been licensed to a variety of companies including MedImmune, Biogen and Pamlico Biopharma.

Ahmed’s laboratory has co-developed a novel method for rapidly generating human monoclonal antibodies after vaccination and has shown that broadly cross-reactive antibodies that recognize multiple influenza viruses can be generated after influenza vaccination in humans. These studies are contributing to ongoing efforts to develop a universal influenza vaccine.

Ahmed was instrumental in establishing the Emory Vaccine Center in 1996 and securing funding for its development and continued success. The Vaccine Center is the largest academic vaccine research center in the world and includes more than 40 faculty, 250 staff members, and has secured nearly $1 billion in research funding since its founding.

Technologies developed at the Vaccine Center have formed the basis for biotechnology companies including GeoVax, a Georgia-based startup company that has created more than 100 jobs in the state. He also serves on the advisory board of biotechnology companies including Merck, Novartis Vaccines, Immune Design, and Selecta Biosciences.

Ahmed has mentored numerous junior scientists including research scientists, postdoctoral fellows, graduate and undergraduate students and has served as an advisor to dozens more. Many of these have gone on to positions in academia and industry, where their research has been highly impactful.

Ahmed is a fellow of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Academy of Microbiology, and the Indian National Academy of Sciences. His awards include the Robert Koch Award from the Robert Koch Foundation and the William B. Coley Award from the Cancer Research Institute.

Fellows will be inducted in April 2019 during the NAI’s 2019 annual conference in Houston, Tx. The 2019 NAI Fellows will be highlighted with a full-page announcement in the Jan. 25, 2019 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education and in  upcoming issues of  Technology and Innovation.

The National Academy of Inventors is a member organization, founded n 2010, comprising U.S. and international universities and government and non-profit research institutes. With the election of the 2018 class of 148 fellows. there are now more than 1,000 NAI Fellows, including nine from Emory, representing more than 250 research universities and government and non-profit research institutes. The 2018 Fellows are named inventors on nearly 4,000 issued U.S. patents, bringing the collective patents held by all NAI Fellows to more than 35,000 issued U.S. patents.

The NAI was founded to recognize and encourage inventors with patents issued from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, enhance the visibility of academic technology and innovation, encourage the disclosure of intellectual property, educate and mentor innovative students, and translate the inventions of its members to benefit society.

The complete list of inventors is available on the NAI website.

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