Felix Franks Biotechnology Medal
The award is in Commemoration of Cambridge University Professor, Felix Franks (1926-2016), a highly distinguished former Chairman of the Biotechnology Group, and is a result of the generosity of his family who have agreed to provide the medals.
The aim of this RSC Biotechnology Group award is to encourage and recognise excellence in early career scientists in the application of chemical sciences to the study of any aspect of Biotechnology.
The award will be made for the most meritorious contributions to Chemical Biotechnology on the basis of published papers and/or other documentary evidence, including contributions to conferences, over the preceding 5 years. We encourage proposals both from industry and academia and accept supporting evidence from more than one person if the candidate has not been able to publish confidential work.
The award is open to all early career scientists, whether or not members of the Royal Society of Chemistry or the Biotechnology Group. The definition of an ‘Early Career Scientist’ is normally someone who commenced their PhD less than 12 years before the closing date for nominations. Full details of the eligibility criteria can be found in the Information Sheet for Nominators.
Nominations for the 2024 medal are open now until 17.00 GMT on Wednesday 17 January 2024.
Nominations must be made using the online nomination form and must include supporting evidence and a one-page CV of the candidate. Please send all your completed information by email.
The candidate’s agreement must first be obtained and the name of a second person willing to act as referee should be given.
Notification of the 2024 Winner and Presentation of the Award
Notification of the winner of the 2024 Award will be made shortly after the Group’s Committee meeting in March 2024. The recipient of the 2024 award will be invited to present a lecture on their work at a meeting sponsored by the RSC Biotechnology Group, at which a certificate and the inscribed medal will be presented.
Felix Franks Biotechnology Medal - Online nomination form
Felix Franks Biotechnology Medal – 2023 Winner
The Biotechnology Group committee are very pleased to announce that the recipient of the 2023 Felix Franks Biotechnology Medal is Dr Maria Chiara Arno, of the School of Chemistry, University of Birmingham.
Maria Chiara receives the award for her outstanding contributions in advancing the understanding of material-cell interactions.
Maria Chiara received her Masters’ degree in Pharmaceutical Chemistry & Technology at the University of Padova in 2011 and her PhD in Pharmaceutical Chemistry at King’s College London in 2015. Since then, she has been a Research Fellow at the University of Warwick and then from 2020 a Birmingham Fellow and Assistant Professor in Polymeric Biomaterials at the University of Birmingham.
As a PDRA, Maria Chiara brought a new skill set (evaluation of materials’ biological performance in vitro and in vivo) to Prof. Dove’s research group at Warwick, leading a new research strand in precision biomaterials design. This had a transformative impact in the group’s research, moving the focus from fundamental materials chemistry to its application in biologically relevant settings (e.g., Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2017, 56, 9178-9182; Biomacromolecules 2018, 19, 3427-3434; Biomaterials 2018, 180, 184-192; Nat. Commun. 2020, 11, 3250; Nat. Commun. 2020, 11, 2460).
Among her most significant contributions has been the development of a technique to precisely control the morphology and size of semi-crystalline nanoparticles in water. This research (J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2017, 139, 16980-16985) represents the first report on the biological application of nanostructures prepared by crystallisation-driven self-assembly, allowing the application of this technology in the fields of drug delivery and tissue engineering towards to an entirely new class of biomaterials. Building on this original idea, she has pioneered the concept of 2D nanoparticles as tissue adhesives (Nat. Commun. 2020, 11, 1420). Her studies have significantly advanced our understanding of how nanomaterials’ interactions with biological systems can be exploited to engineer living materials.
Maria Chiara has established independent collaborations across universities and companies in the UK and worldwide. As an example, she was awarded a Researcher Mobility Grant in 2018 to visit the University of Queensland to establish a new research collaboration (Biomater. Sci. 2023, accepted; ACS Cent. Sci. 2018, 4, 718-723; Nanomaterials 2021, 11, 1745).
She has proven herself to be an inspired leader with a unique multidisciplinary approach, bridging the interface of supramolecular chemistry and chemical biology, that crosses the traditional biotechnology and materials chemistry boundaries.
Maria Chiara will be presented with the award at an RSC meeting or other suitable occasion in 2023 or 2024.
Winner of the 2023 Felix Franks Biotechnology Medal: Dr Maria Chiara Arno of the School of Chemistry, University of Birmingham
Felix Franks Biotechnology Medal – 2022 Winner
The Biotechnology Group committee are very pleased to announce that the recipient of the 2022 Felix Franks Biotechnology Medal is Dr Holly Reeve, of HydRegen Ltd., Oxford.
Holly receives the award for her outstanding work in establishing a highly innovative approach – now patented – to decarbonising biocatalysis that addresses many of the requirements for net-zero manufacturing, taking it forward from proof-of-concept to commercialisation.
Holly graduated with a Master of Chemistry degree in 2010 and a DPhil in Inorganic Chemistry at the University of Oxford in 2015. Then from 2016, she led an Innovate UK research program taking a biotechnology, HydRegen, from proof-of-concept results to commercial offering as a spinout. The technology promises to transform biocatalysis in chemical manufacturing, allowing isolated enzymes to be handled in the same way as supported metal catalysts for hydrogenation reactions.
Significantly, by recognising trends in translating heterogeneous hydrogenation chemistry into continuous flow reactors, she directed a research programme implementing HydRegen in continuous flow including the use of the industrial-standard hydrogenation flow reactor, the H-cube (DOI:10.1039/C7CC04465H, DOI:10.1002/cctc.202000763, DOI:10.3389/fceng.2021.718257). This, along with other key research decisions, has been critical to chemists recognising the potential of HydRegen for sustainable processes across the chemicals sector.
Since 2017, Holly has co-authored 17 publications, 4 as corresponding author, in high-impact journals such as Nature Communications (DOI: 10.1021/acs.oprd.9b00410) and Chemical Science (DOI:10.1039/D1SC00295C). Holly is also an inventor of arising biotechnology patents. Since 2020, she raised over £1.3 million in spinout funding from Innovate UK and investors to commercialise HydRegen as a spinout (www.hydregenoxford.com) and will commence prototyping towards sales in 2022. The impact will be further increased by partnerships with two major UK chemical companies. She has also been committed to public outreach and has developed a suite of videos and animations to promote the use of biology in chemistry (Watch examples here).
HydRegen technology, originally demonstrated in her Masters project, offers a transformational approach to biocatalysis in chemical manufacturing: hydrogenase supplies electrons through a carbon bead to an NAD+ reductase, generating NADH to support reductive catalysis by a plethora of NADH-dependent reductases. This platform approach decarbonises biotechnology by avoiding glucose for driving cofactor recycling, while also facilitating heterogenisation on a solid support. Holly quickly recognised the power of this in translating to continuous flow chemistry, precision insertion of heavy isotope deuterium, and addressing key challenges toward net-zero manufacturing. The strong technology foundation gives the spin-out enormous scope for future expansion.
Holly says the following: “I’m delighted to receive the Felix Franks Biotechnology Medal 2022 in recognition of our work developing technologies at the interface of chemistry and biology. At HydRegen, we are passionate about reducing the environmental impact of chemical manufacturing and are committed to enabling companies across the chemicals sector to make use of industrial biotechnology to improve their energy and resource efficiency whilst moving towards continuous manufacturing processes.”
Holly was presented with the award at the RSC Biotechnology Group meeting “Biotransformations II” held at Burlington House on Friday 24th March 2023.
Felix Franks Biotechnology Medal – 2021 Winner
The Biotechnology Group committee are pleased to announce that the winner of the 2021 Felix Franks Biotechnology Medal, Dr Yuval Elani of the Chemical Engineering Department, Imperial College London, will receive his award at the RSC MIBIO2022 meeting to be held at Downing College, Cambridge on 19th October 2022. View details about MIBIO 2022.
Yuval, a UKRI Future Leaders Fellow, has been a pioneer in the development and advancement of “bottom-up” synthetic biology, a step-change from traditional efforts, which have focused on the top-down modification of living cells. Yuval’s approach has been to develop a series of technologies that allow synthetic cells to be constructed from scratch using biomolecular building blocks, an approach that has led to powerful partnerships with Industry: GSK Vaccines, AstraZeneca, and Syngenta, partnerships which are exploiting artificial cells in smart therapeutic devices, for vaccine delivery, and in agritech compound development pipelines. His most noticeable accomplishments include the development of cutting edge microfluidic, optofluidic, and membrane engineering technologies for the manufacture of vesicle based synthetic cells with user defined size, compartmentalisation and molecular content (published in Nature Communications in 2018). He has shown that by incorporating biomolecular machines into these constructs, they can be engineered to sense and respond to their environments (PNAS 2019), swim up concentration gradients (Nature Communications in 2021), synthesise proteins (Physical Chemistry, Chemical Physics 2016), and act as biochemical microreactors (Nature Communications 2014 & 2018).
Yuval has recently begun a new research trajectory towards biointerface science, investigating how artificial cells can be combined with living materials. He has constructed artificial cells with encapsulated cells that can power internal reactions through photosynthesis, and by establishing communication routes between living and synthetic cells (published in Scientific Reports in 2018 and Angewandte Chemie 2020). This has formed the cornerstone of his UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship. At the heart of Yuval’s successes has been his adoption of a uniquely multidisciplinary networked science approach, successfully dovetailing his expertise in microfluidics, synthetic biology, chemical biology, soft matter and membrane biophysics.
Felix Franks Biotechnology Medal – 2020 Winner
On 28th July 2021 Dr. Jenny Zhang of the Department of Chemistry, University of Cambridge received the award of the 2020 RSC Felix Franks Biotechnology Medal. She was presented with the award at the (on-line) RSC International Solar Fuels Conference by Professor Steve Harding, Chair of the Award Committee immediately before Jenny’s Keynote lecture “Photosynthesis on an electrode”.
Jenny, a BBSRC David Phillips Fellow, has been a key player in the advancement of bio-photoelectrochemistry in the preceding 5 years. Bio-photoelectrochemistry focusses on the ‘wiring’ of natural photosynthetic components to electrodes and forms the foundation of emerging sustainability-driven biotechnologies such as (photo)microbial fuel cells (biophotovoltaics) and semi-artificial photosynthesis devices for solar power/fuel generation. Jenny propelled the field forward by uncovering novel electron transfer pathways at the bio-material interface (Nature Chem. Biol., 2016), rigorously assessing the electrocatalytic potential of living photosynthetic cells (J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2018), and coordinating a flagship ERC project on ‘Semi-artificial Photosynthesis’. Jenny currently applies the lessons gained from her protein-film photoelectrochemistry work to develop novel microbial electrodes for solar power generation, solar fuel generation and biosensing, in ways that avoid using environmentally unsustainable materials. She is also continuing efforts to identify and explain the complex interplay of charge transfer pathways at bio-electrode interfaces. The outstanding nature of Jenny’s work stems from her multi-disciplinary background and ability to congruously integrate disparate fields (e.g. artificial with biological photosynthesis, material science with microbiology), which allowed her to establish new connections and make breakthroughs in the field.
Felix Franks Biotechnology Medal – 2019 Winner
On 15 January 2021 Zhen Gu received the award of the RSC Felix Franks Biotechnology Medal from the Vice Chancellor of Zhejiang University, Professor Tianhua Zhou, on behalf of the RSC Biotechnology Group. This was the inaugural (2019) award, delayed due to the Covid pandemic. The award was set up by the RSC’s Biotechnology Group to recognise outstanding achievement in the field of Chemical Biotechnology by Early Career Scientists, and in commemoration of Professor Felix Franks (1926-2016), distinguished former Chair of the Biotechnology Group.
The award ceremony was broadcast live on Microsoft Teams and included an introduction by Prof Stephen Harding, Chair of the Award Committee, a short presentation by Prof Gu, and was concluded by Prof Harding, Prof Suzanne Franks and Professor Jianqing Gao, Vice Dean of the College of Pharmaceutical Sciences. You can watch the event here:
Zhen Gu’s key contribution is that he pioneered “programmed medications” that apply physiological signals-responsive materials/systems for precisely delivering therapeutics, especially for diabetes and cancer treatment. Specifically, he has developed glucose-responsive synthetic formulations and devices for delivering insulin in a self-regulated manner, which mimics the function of pancreatic beta cells. Additionally, he has also leveraged physiological properties of cells to generate several innovative cell-mediated anticancer drug delivery systems that can either effectively target the primary tumour site or inhibit cancer recurrence/metastasis after surgery. Highlights of his pioneering studies include smart insulin patch and platelet-delivered immunotherapy.
Diabetes currently affects over 417 million people in the world. A glucose-responsive delivery system that “secretes” insulin in response to blood-sugar level changes is highly desirable to improve health and quality of life for people with diabetes. Dr. Gu pioneered the concept and made the first prototype of “smart insulin patch” highlighted by his publications in PNAS, Science and Nature (PNAS, 2015; PNAS, 2019; Science Advances, 2019; Nature Biomedical Engineering, 2020).
This patch uses a painless microneedle-array loaded with glucose-responsive formulation/matrix, which can effectively regulate the blood glucose of diabetic mice and pigs (>25 kg) and reduce risk of hypoglycaemia. The combination of minimally invasive transdermal patch and glucose-responsive insulin delivery formulation is exceptionally innovative and translational.
Dr. Gu’s cofounded start-up company-Zenomics has received $5.8 million investment and joined FDA’s emerging technology program for clinical translation of smart insulin patch. He has further generated a platform technology of the bioresponsive closed-loop systems, integrating sensing component and delivery actuator together inside microneedle patches.
Featured inventions include insulin-responsive glucagon patch, thrombin-responsive heparin patch, reactive oxygen species-responsive anti-acne patch and tumour microenvironment-responsive patch for delivery of immune checkpoint blockade antibodies, forming the platform for his other start-up company ZenCapsule.