Photo of Velupillai Puvanesarajah

Velupillai Puvanesarajah

  • National Medal of Technology and Innovation
  • Medicine

For their work in the discovery, development and commercialization of Prevnar, the first-ever vaccine to prevent the deadly and disabling consequences of Streptococcus pneumoniae infections in children.

Streptococcus pneumoniae used to cause a variety of illnesses in children, ranging from inner ear infections to deadly cases of meningitis and pneumonia. Thanks to Velupillai Puvanesarajah and a handful of other scientists, those days are over.

Puvanesarajah was on a team that worked tirelessly to develop a vaccine, Prevnar, that attacks the bacteria in children. Thanks to their pioneering work cases of childhood meningitis, pneumonia and ear infections have been dramatically reduced.

Introduced in 2000 by Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, Prevnar was an immediate game changer in pediatric medicine. One 2003 study showed a nearly 70-percent rate of effectiveness in cutting infections caused pneumococcal bacteria in children.

Puvanesarajah, who earned a doctorate in organic chemistry from York University in Ontario, Canada in 1983, joined Wyeth in 1992 where he held management roles in vaccine research and development. In 2003, he and the rest of the Prevnar development team were named “Heroes of Chemistry’’ by the American Chemical Society.

Puvanesarajah and other members of the Prevar development team also received the “Discoverers Award’’ in 2005 from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

By Bob Warren