Mathematician Dimitris Bertsimas from MIT (left), human geneticist Emmanouil Dermitzakis from the University of Geneva (top right), and biomedical scientist George Yancopoulos (bottom right), co-founder of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals.
The leading Greek entrepreneur and founder of the Bodossaki Foundation, Prodromos Bodossakis-Athanasiadis (1890-1979), was a firm believer in science and in the potential of young Greeks. In honor of its founder, the foundation established the Bodossaki Excellence Award in 1993 in recognition of the work of young Greek scientists and their contribution to the country in the fields of science, technology and life sciences.
Today, it is with great pride that the foundation’s people watch as three recipients of the award do battle on the frontlines of research against the coronavirus pandemic. They are applied mathematician Dimitris Bertsimas, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; human geneticist Emmanouil Dermitzakis, a professor in the Department of Genetic Medicine and Development at the University of Geneva; and George Yancopoulos, a biomedical scientist who is also the co-founder, president and chief scientific officer of US-based Regeneron Pharmaceuticals.
‘Only Greek award’
“I received the Bodossaki Excellence Award in 1997, when I was 35 years old,” says Bertsimas, who is also associate dean of business analytics at MIT. Bertsimas and a team of students recently developed an epidemiological model dubbed Delphi after the ancient Greek oracle, which charts the progression of the pandemic and is used to predict outbreaks in different parts of the world over the summer. The model was recently improved with the addition of data on measures adopted by governments, allowing it to expand its predictions to September.
“I have received quite a few science awards over the course of my career, but this was the first and the only one I received in Greece. The award was first and foremost a recognition of my scientific contribution by my own country. I also took the opportunity to publicly acknowledge the support of my family and my mentors in my scientific development. It also reminded me of my debt to my country to try to help it whenever this is asked of me. For example, when I was asked in 2013 to become the chairman of the administrative board of the University of Athens, I accepted the invitation with this precise intention, even though the SYRIZA government decided that it didn’t need my help after all a couple of years later,” says Bertsimas.
He adds that the award was also an important recognition of the field of business analytics, an area of applied mathematics that, Bertsimas says, “is able, as few other fields, to contribute significantly to very broad areas of science, engineering and medicine.”
“My research into Covid-19 underscored the field’s versatility,” he adds.
“Most importantly, the awards celebrate the principle of meritocracy which, in my opinion, leads to a better society and a better future. I think the Bodossaki Excellence Award is a reminder to us all, but to young people especially, of the importance of this principle.”
Geneva University geneticist Emmanouil Dermitzakis received his award from the Bodossaki Foundation in 2017. The director of Geneva University’s Health 2030 Genome Center and a member of the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics, he is renowned for his work on the genetic makeup of numerous diseases.
‘A great honor’
He is currently preparing a genetic study on 3,500 Greek coronavirus patients, analyzing their genetic profile, the mutations of the virus they have been infected with and their immunological profile. The study is expected to help scientists understand the novel coronavirus’ genetic profile and contribute to the development of a treatment.
“I had the great honor to receive, with another four colleagues, the Bodossaki Foundation Scientific Award for biosciences and medicine. As a diaspora scientist, the award represents a powerful bond to Greece, a way to give back to the country that educated me,” he says.
“No matter how many years and awards have gone by since, the Bodossaki Award is the only one that still moves me so deeply. Even if you don’t know the foundation, its influence in Greece is immediately apparent. The recognition from the scientific world and beyond and the respect the award conveys defies expectations,” says Dermitzakis.
“It is also a great responsibility for the person who receives it as they become a person who is not just representing themselves, but also a small yet brilliant community of scientists who have also received the award, a community of such prestige than one wonders whether one deserves to be a part of it,” he adds.
‘Prestige and courage’
Bestowed in 1997, the Bodossaki Award could not have come at a better time for Yancopoulos from Regeneron, a biotechnology leader and one of the world’s most innovative companies, according to Forbes.
“For a scientist at the start of his career, winning such an important award – and especially one that is given by fellow Greeks – was not just inspiring, it also gave me the prestige and courage to carry on at a point of my career when doubt can be really crushing. At the time, the firm was struggling to establish itself in the biotech industry and the positive boost from the award made a huge difference. Not to mention that of all the awards I would go on to win in recognition of my work, that is still the most important one to my parents and to many of my relatives in Greece,” he says.
Yancopoulos’ scientific team recently described the discovery and development of an “antibody cocktail” for Covid-19, while announcing the start of clinical trials on patients.
“It is a great honor for my name to be forever in the catalogue of Greeks who won this award at the start of their careers and went on to contribute to the incredible progress of the sciences,” he says.
The Bodossaki Foundation Scientific Award has been given to 51 scientists since it was first established in 1993. Just a few months ago, the foundation announced its 12th edition of the awards for 2021.
For details and to submit a nomination, visit www.bodossaki.gr.