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Emory researcher honored at White House for innovation in HIV treatment
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Brian Katzowitz
Senior Director, Health Communications and Media Relations
Dennis Liotta being honored for his innovation in scientific research.

Over the course of his storied career, Emory's Dennis Liotta, PhD, has been instrumental in the creation of novel therapies that have benefited millions of lives around the world.

— Kaz Sasahara, Lancer Photography

Emory University researcher and inventor Dennis Liotta, PhD, has been named to the Bayh-Dole Coalition’s inaugural “Faces of American Innovation.” Liotta is among just five individuals to be recognized with the American Innovator Award by the Coalition, which consists of “a diverse group of innovation-oriented organizations and individuals committed to celebrating and protecting the Bayh-Dole Act.” Liotta was selected for “helping to transform HIV from a death sentence into a manageable illness.”

Throughout his multi-decade career, Liotta has been instrumental in the creation of novel therapies that have benefited millions of lives around the world. He was one of the leaders of the Emory research team that discovered the antiviral drug emtricitabine (Emtriva), which was approved for treating HIV in 2003.

But his contributions are not limited to HIV therapies. He discovered a CDK7 inhibitor for treating hard-to-treat cancers and helped establish the Emory Institute for Drug Development, which created the first antiviral for treating COVID-19.

“I am humbled and honored to receive an inaugural Faces of Innovation Award, sponsored by the Bayh Dole Coalition,” Liotta says. “Drug development is a team sport and in the three decades I have worked in the area, I have been blessed to have had an exceptional team of collaborators. In particular, I want to acknowledge the contributions made by Drs. Woo-Baeg Choi, Raymond Schinazi and George Painter.”

Liotta joined Emory in 1976 and has played a significant role in fueling its reputation as a drug discovery powerhouse, mentoring multiple generations of scientist-entrepreneurs along the way. He has authored more than 300 peer-reviewed publications and is an inventor on more than 100 issued U.S. patents. He is also the founding editor-in-chief of an American Chemical Society journal, ACS Medicinal Chemistry Letters, which provides a rapid communication venue for reporting important new findings in medicinal chemistry and related fields.

On Wednesday, September 13, Liotta and his four co-awardees profiled in the Faces of Innovation report received their award at a ceremony in Washington, DC and were honored at the White House’s Eisenhower Executive Office Building.  

“By bringing groundbreaking discoveries from the lab into the real world, these visionaries improved millions of lives around the globe,” says Brian O’Shaughnessy, the Bayh-Dole Coalition’s board chair. “None of these stories would have been possible without the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act, one of our nation’s most inspired — and most successful — pieces of legislation.

The Bayh-Dole Act in 1980 paved the way for universities to retain ownership of federally funded intellectual property. The results of technology transfer have included enhanced innovation in university laboratories, additional revenues available for research, a culture of entrepreneurship, and increased opportunities for both faculty and students.

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