Former Sanger Institute Head of Pathogens receives the 2020 Albert B. Sabin Gold Medal 

Professor Gordon Dougan awarded Sabin Vaccine Institute prize for his contributions to vaccinology

Professor Gordon Dougan FRS, formerly Head of Pathogens Research at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, and now Professor in the Department of Medicine and the Cambridge Institute for Therapeutic Immunology and Infectious Disease at the University of Cambridge, has been awarded the 2020 Albert B. Sabin Gold Medal by the Sabin Vaccine Institute (Sabin).

Named after Albert B Sabin, the inventor of the oral polio vaccine, the Gold Medal is Sabin’s highest scientific honour, awarded annually since 1994 to recognise champions who have made extraordinary contributions in the field of vaccinology or a complementary field. Previous winners have included Donald Henderson, who led the programme to eradicate smallpox and Maurice Hilleman, who invented the MMR vaccine.

Professor Dougan is the first UK national to win the award and has been a leading influencer in the vaccine world since the 1980s, contributing to vaccine discovery, manufacture and delivery. His work has particularly focused on making quality, low cost vaccines that can be used by those who normally cannot afford them. Many vaccines and vaccine initiatives would not have been developed without his strategic vision. His research work has helped to redefine our understanding of how infections spread around the world, a subject of direct relevance to the current COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are pleased to present the Gold Medal to Gordon. His work demonstrates a life-long commitment to innovating the development and delivery of vaccines, translating scientific research into practical tools and encouraging the next generation of leaders in vaccinology. His dual commitment to science and advocacy exemplifies Dr. Albert B. Sabin’s legacy in harnessing innovation for good and the belief that everyone, everywhere should have access to lifesaving vaccines.”

Amy Finan, Sabin’s chief executive officer

After earning his doctoral degree from Sussex University, Gordon spent 10 years at the Wellcome Foundation (a UK company now part of GSK). There, his team worked on many vaccines including whooping cough, defining the protective antigen known as pertactin, which is now a component of new generation safer whooping cough vaccines. In 1992, he moved to Imperial College London, where he established the Centre for Molecular Microbiology and Infection, and carried out work on cholera-like toxins which improved our ability to deliver vaccines orally.

On joining the Wellcome Sanger Institute in 2004, Professor Dougan became Head of Pathogen Research and built a world-leading programme on infection genomics and disease tracking. He also put antimicrobial resistance on the map as a major public health concern and pioneered the construction of attenuated strains of salmonella to aid in the development of typhoid vaccines. The open access data and technology generated under his leadership at the Institute directly impacted the creation of vaccines against many diseases including pertussis, typhoid fever and cholera. His multi-faceted coalition-building work with the World Health Organization and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, has led to the successful delivery of several affordable vaccines around the world.

“I’m honored to receive this award named after Dr. Sabin, whose groundbreaking invention and successful global distribution of the trivalent oral polio vaccine relates to some of my proudest professional accomplishments. Open access data and technology has empowered scientists and researchers, including in low- and middle-income countries, to accelerate progress on vaccines that may be of low commercial priority, but make a substantial difference to the quality of life and health of vulnerable populations around the world. I am proud to have supported this work.”

Professor Gordon Dougan, at the Department of Medicine and the Cambridge Institute for Therapeutic Immunology and Infectious Disease at the University of Cambridge

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Gordon has helped set up testing for COVID-19 in the hospital healthcare workers, established safe containment facilities for handling the SARS2 virus and worked on the COG-UK virus sequencing project, tracking virus movement into and across the UK.

Professor Dougan is currently also working part of the week on secondment at Wellcome, helping to develop a strategy programme covering vaccines and innovations.

The 2020 Albert B. Sabin Gold Medal was made possible in part by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and sponsorship by GSK; Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp., a subsidiary of Merck & Co., Inc.; Pfizer; and Takeda. Sponsors have no role in Sabin’s program design, development or outputs, including findings and analysis.

More information

About Gordon Dougan

Professor Gordon Dougan focuses on the genetic analysis of host/pathogen interactions during infection. He has worked extensively in both academia and industry, making important contributions in the field of vaccinology and working to improve vaccine delivery to poorly resourced regions. His group exploits genomic approaches to study host-pathogen interactions and the analysis of microbial populations, and he manages teams working on vaccines, humanized antibodies and scale-up systems.

Gordon has extensive teaching experience at both the undergraduate and postgraduate level. He has served on several editorial boards and regularly reviews manuscripts for high-impact journals. He is a consultant for industry and has founded biotechnology companies, including the single-chain antibody company VHSquared. Gordon is a Fellow of the Royal Society, the Biology Society, the Academy of Medical Sciences and is an European Molecular Biology Organization member. He established the Centre for Molecular Microbiology and Infection (including raising funding for a building) at Imperial College London and was the Board of Management representative for Pathogen Research for ten years (2004-2014) at the Sanger Institute.

Visit his blog to read his recent work.

Selected websites

  • About the Sabin Vaccine Institute

    The Sabin Vaccine Institute is a leading advocate for expanding vaccine access and uptake globally, advancing vaccine research and development, and amplifying vaccine knowledge and innovation. Unlocking the potential of vaccines through partnership, Sabin has built a robust ecosystem of funders, innovators, implementers, practitioners, policy makers and public stakeholders to advance its vision of a future free from preventable diseases. As a non-profit with more than two decades of experience, Sabin is committed to finding solutions that last and extending the full benefits of vaccines to all people, regardless of who they are or where they live. At Sabin, we believe in the power of vaccines to change the world. For more information, visit and follow us on Twitter, @SabinVaccine.

  • Wellcome Sanger Institute

    The Wellcome Sanger Institute is a world leading genomics research centre. We undertake large-scale research that forms the foundations of knowledge in biology and medicine. We are open and collaborative; our data, results, tools and technologies are shared across the globe to advance science. Our ambition is vast – we take on projects that are not possible anywhere else. We use the power of genome sequencing to understand and harness the information in DNA. Funded by Wellcome, we have the freedom and support to push the boundaries of genomics. Our findings are used to improve health and to understand life on Earth. Find out more at or follow us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and on our Blog.

  • About Wellcome

    Wellcome exists to improve health by helping great ideas to thrive. We support researchers, we take on big health challenges, we campaign for better science, and we help everyone get involved with science and health research. We are a politically and financially independent foundation.