Scripps Institute president receives honorary degree from Oxford

Scripps Institute president receives honorary degree from Oxford

Richard A. Lerner, M.D., president of The Scripps Research Institute, was recognized with an honorary doctor of science degree from the University of Oxford for his innovative work as a chemist.

Dr. Lerner was cited by the 800-year-old British university for his research “in the field of catalytic antibodies which has shown that antibodies can be employed as enzymes - research which has relevance for such conditions as atherosclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease.”

Joining Dr. Lerner among the nine honorary degree recipients this year were former President Jimmy Carter, author A.S. Byatt, pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim, and two other scientists, Lord May of Oxford, a mathematical biologist, and Professor Chintamani Nagesa Ramachandra, a chemist.

“I am deeply honored and very grateful that research accomplished by my lab at The Scripps Research Institute has been recognized by this most prestigious of ancient and modern universities,” Dr. Lerner commented on receiving his degree. “The Skaggs Oxford Scholarship program, which permits outstanding young Ph.D. candidates the opportunity to study at both The Scripps Research Institute and Oxford University, binds together these two world-class centers of learning. This wonderful event today unites us even more.”

The honorary degrees were awarded at “Encaenia,” a colorful and tradition-marked festival of dedication and renewal held since 1670 in the university’s Sheldonian Theatre. Heads of Colleges and other university dignitaries assembled in full academic dress, then walked in procession to the theater. Dr. Lerner and the other notables receiving honorary degrees waited in the Divinity School, where they signed their names in the Honorary Degrees Book before being escorted into the theater.

Dr. Richard A. Lerner’s 40-year scientific career is particularly significant not only for the broad scope of his achievements in several diverse areas of biomedical research, but for his leadership and vision in concurrently directing the totality of scientific activities at The Scripps Research Institute, one of the world’s largest independent, non-profit biomedical research organizations. His work spans a wide range of seemingly disparate discoveries, from unique insights into protein and peptide structure to the identification of a sleep-inducing lipid. He has been widely recognized by numerous prestigious societies and organizations in the United States and abroad.

One of his accomplishments, and that for which he is perhaps most well known, is groundbreaking advances in the field of catalytic antibodies, showing that antibodies can be employed as enzymes (work conducted simultaneously with Scripps Research Professor Peter Schultz, then at the University of California, Berkeley).

This work permitted the catalysis of chemical reactions considered impossible to achieve by classical chemical procedures.

While it has taken enzymes acting on natural biological systems millions of years of evolution to reach their present level of efficiency, antibodies can be produced overnight, for obtaining an almost limitless variety of products - beyond natural ones - with an efficiency that may exceed that of natural enzymes.