Dr. Bernard Moss wins Bristol-Myers Squibb Award

November 15, 2000

Bernard Moss, M.D., Ph.D., a virologist whose work has been crucial to understanding how viruses infect cells and to developing vaccines against viral diseases, will receive this year's Bristol-Myers Squibb Award for Distinguished Achievement in Infectious Disease Research. Dr. Moss serves as chief of the Laboratory of Viral Diseases at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

"Through a lifetime study of poxviruses, which include the agent causing smallpox, Dr. Moss has made many seminal contributions to understanding the molecular virology of poxviruses and the interactions of the viruses with their host organisms," wrote the independent scientific selection committee that chose Dr. Moss for the award. Dr. Moss will receive a silver medallion and a $50,000 cash prize at an awards dinner to be held at the Pierre Hotel in New York City on Thursday, November 30.

"Dr. Moss clearly stands out as a leader in his field," comments Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., NIAID director. "He has made many important contributions to our basic knowledge and understanding of viruses and viral infections. He is an outstanding choice for this award."

Dr. Moss' first notable discovery was the "cap" found at one end of most viral and all cellular messenger RNAs; he determined the process that creates this cap and the cap's structure. He followed this achievement by showing how poxviruses express their genes and replicate their DNA in host cells.

Dr. Moss was the first to reveal several insidious strategies viruses use to undermine the immune system and spread through the body. For example, he found that some viral genes code for proteins that protect the virus from the host's immune system. He coined the word virokine to describe this class of proteins. One such virokine, discovered by Dr. Moss, weakens the effects of a major immune system weapon: complement molecules. Subsequently, dozens of other virokine proteins and their genes were identified. Dr. Moss also showed that some viruses cause their host cells to secrete a growth factor that stimulates nearby uninfected cells to multiply, thereby allowing the virus to spread faster.

But experts agree that Dr. Moss' most widely appreciated accomplishment was demonstrating how to use the vaccinia virus, employed as a vaccine against smallpox, as a tool for research and for making almost any other kind of vaccine. Dr. Moss showed that a modified gene from an unrelated infectious organism could be inserted into the vaccinia virus. When injected into a host, this engineered virus caused an immune response to the infectious organism whose gene it contained.

This achievement revolutionized vaccine research and led to a live recombinant wildlife rabies vaccine used in Europe and the United States. Researchers are also evaluating several candidate vaccines for HIV, malaria and various cancers based directly on this method. In addition, Dr. Moss' work has sparked development of other types of viral vectors and vaccines.

At the start of his career, Dr. Moss was not interested in viruses but in how genes worked, he says. At that time, studying viruses was the best way to conduct gene research. Over time, however, he became more and more interested in viruses in their own right. "The virus is a system with so many facets that all have to work together: how genes are regulated and expressed, how proteins are assembled, how the virus infects the cell," he says. "It's a nearly complete biological system, and that is what has fascinated me over the years."

Dr. Moss attended New York University, receiving a B.A. magna cum laude with honors in biology in 1957 and an M.D. in 1961. Following an internship at the Children's Hospital Medical Center in Boston, he earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where his thesis was on the developmental regulation of gene expression. Dr. Moss then joined NIAID in 1966 in the Laboratory of Biology of Viruses. He rose through the ranks in the laboratory, becoming a section head in 1972 and a laboratory chief in 1984 of the newly established Laboratory of Viral Diseases. He is also the director of the genetic engineering section.

Dr. Moss' numerous other awards and honors include the Taylor International Prize for Medicine, the ICN International Prize for Virology, the Invitrogen Eukaryotic Expression Award, the Dickson Prize for Medical Research, and a Public Health Service Distinguished Service Medal. He was selected as one of Science Digest's 100 Most Innovative Scientists of 1985. He was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Microbiology, and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The Bristol-Myers Squibb Award for Distinguished Achievement in Infectious Disease Research was instituted in 1991 as part of a no-strings-attached research and grants awards program. An independent committee of leading researchers selects one recipient each year.
NIAID is a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIAID supports basic and applied research to prevent, diagnose, and treat infectious and immune-mediated illnesses, including HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, tuberculosis, malaria, autoimmune disorders, asthma and allergies.

Press releases, fact sheets and other NIAID-related materials are available on the NIAID Web site at www.niaid.nih.gov.

NIH/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

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