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Cambridge University’s Sir Shankar Balasubramanian in winning DNA sequencing team

Cambridge University chemists Shankar Balasubramanian and David Klenerman have been declared the winners of the 2020 Millennium Technology Prize for their development of revolutionary sequencing techniques which means DNA can now be read in super-fast times.

The prestigious global science and technology prize, awarded by Technology Academy Finland (TAF) at two-year intervals since 2004 to highlight the extensive impact of science and innovation on the wellbeing of society, is worth €1 million. Sir Shankar Balasubramanian, an India-born British professor of medicinal chemistry, and Sir David Klenerman, a British biophysical chemist, co-invented the Solexa-Illumina Next Generation DNA Sequencing (NGS), technology enabling fast, accurate, low-cost and large-scale genome sequencing – the process of determining the complete DNA sequence of an organism's make-up, which is proving crucial in humanity’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. The duo went on to co-found the company Solexa to make the technology more broadly available to the world.

Next Gen Sequencing

The 2020 prize marks the first time that the honour has been awarded to more than one recipient for the same innovation, celebrating the significance of collaboration.

Professor Marja Makarow, Chair of Technology Academy Finland said: “Collaboration is an essential part of ensuring positive change for the future. Next Generation Sequencing is the perfect example of what can be achieved through teamwork and individuals from different scientific backgrounds coming together to solve a problem.

“The technology pioneered by Professor Balasubramanian and Professor Klenerman has also played a key role in helping discover the coronavirus’s sequence, which in turn enabled the creation of the vaccines – itself a triumph for cross-border collaboration – and helped identify new variants of COVID-19.”

The winning work has helped the creation of multiple vaccines, now being administered worldwide, and is critical to the creation of new vaccines against new dangerous viral strains. The results will also be used to prevent future pandemics. However, the International Selection Committee – the body of experts that evaluates all nominations for the prize – pointed out that it had made its decision in February 2020, before the global spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.


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