Professor Dr Patrick Cramer receiving his Shaw Prize. Image: The Shaw Prize Foundation

Max Planck Society President Professor Patrick Cramer honoured with Shaw Prize

14 November 2023

Biochemist Professor Dr Patrick Cramer has been honoured with Hong Kong’s Shaw Prize in Life Sciences for his pioneering work in the field of gene transcription.

Professor Cramer is the director at the Max Planck Institute for Multidisciplinary Sciences in Göttingen and President of the Max Planck Society, Germany’s most successful research organisation. Croucher Foundation has a close, long-term relationship with the Society, working to offer postdoctoral fellowships and funding for workshops and symposia to encourage the exchange of ideas between scientists in Germany and Hong Kong.

Professor Cramer shared the prestigious award with Prof Eva Nogales from the University of California, Berkeley. Both scientists have made significant contributions to elucidating gene transcription, one of the fundamental processes to life, through the lens of structural biology. With the help of this copying process, living cells create copies of their genes, which subsequently function as blueprints for protein production. Professor Cramer used x-ray crystallography and cryo-electron microscopy to enable the visualisation, at the level of individual atoms, of key steps for gene transcription.

“So thankful to all coworkers who contributed over the decades and made this possible," Professor Cramer wrote on social media when he received the news of the award in May. "It was also due to the incredible support of the Max Planck Society and… all colleagues who supported this that the lab could follow this risky and demanding path.”

The Shaw Prize consists of three annual prizes: Astronomy, Life Sciences and Medicine, and Mathematical Sciences, each bearing a monetary award of US$1 million. The prize was established under the auspices of Run Run Shaw to honour individuals, regardless of race, nationality, gender and religious belief, who have recently achieved significant breakthrough in academic and scientific research or applications and whose work has resulted in a positive and profound impact on mankind.

Shortly after the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic Professor Cramer's research group “filmed" how the coronavirus duplicated its genetic material and unravelled the three-dimensional structure adopted by the pathogen's polymerase during the copying process. His team also successfully elucidated the precise mechanisms by which the Covid-19 drugs remdesivir and molnupiravir exert their therapeutic effects.

Prof Kenneth Young, Chair of the Council and Vice Chair of the Board of Adjudicators of The Shaw Prize Foundation and a former Croucher Foundation trustee, said,“The Shaw Prize celebrates scientific accomplishments without regard to geographical boundaries. Our Laureates help make the world a better place, demonstrated by how the work of Prof Patrick Cramer and Prof Eva Nogales led to a deeper understanding of important biological processes.”

The Shaw Prize ceremony, which also marked the prize’s 20th anniversary this year, was held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre together with over 30 Laureates. Those from the years 2020 to 2022, who had previously received their certificates remotely due to the pandemic, were presented with their gold medals alongside the 2023 winners.

Over 600 guests from various sectors including the government, political community, business community and education sector participated in the event, with Hon John KC Lee, Chief Executive of the Hong Kong SAR, officiating at the ceremony