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News : Dr. Max Summers (PhD '68) Receives 'Father of Baculovirus Expression Technology' Award

Dr. Max Summers (PhD '68) Receives 'Father of Baculovirus Expression Technology' Award
Discover Entomology Texas A&M University
Dr. Max Summers

The pioneer and co-inventor of the most innovative technology in the life sciences field was recognized with an organization’s highest award during a recent conference in San Antonio.

Dr. Max D. Summers, Distinguished Professor and Holder of the Endowed Chair in Agricultural Biotechnology, received the "Father of Baculovirus Expression Technology" Award during the WilBio 12th International Conference on Baculovirus and Insect Cell Culture on February 2-4.

The research performed in the laboratory of Max Summers pioneered the development of the Baculovirus Expression Vector System, or BEVS, which results in the safe, abundant and rapid production of recombinant proteins in insect cells and insects [US Patent No. 4,745,051: Method for Producing a Recombinant baculovirus Expression Vector; Granted May 17, 1988 (Smith/Summers)].

This system was developed from basic studies of a pathogenic insect virus and was the result of the identification, cloning and genetic engineering of a baculovirus gene that expresses abundant quantities of a viral-encoded protein in infected insect cells.

The BEVS represents a core technology that has greatly facilitated the understanding of many proteins from species that span the life sciences. The virus and recombinant protein production in insect cells or insects provide a safe environment to produce products on a large scale. The BEVS is a discovery with very broad enabling applications and impact spanning the basic life sciences and biotechnology.

It has become a core technology for: 1) the cloning and expression of genes for study of protein structure, processing and function; 2) the production of biochemical reagents; 3) the study of regulation of gene expression; 4) the commercial exploration, development and production of vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics; 5) drug discovery research; 6) the exploration and development of safe, selective and environmentally compatible bio-pesticides consistent with sustainable agriculture.

An example of the application and efficiency of the BEVs was the rapid development of an experimental vaccine to the deadly Hong Kong “bird-flu” virus (HSN1): NIH requested the development of a vaccine and Protein Sciences (a company that specializes in BEVS technology) delivered 1700 doses of an experimental vaccine in eight weeks.

This included the time to identify, sequence and clone the gene responsible for the flu symptoms. The vaccine was a success. The efficiency, low cost and large-scale production of proteins using BEVS represents breakthrough technology that is now facilitating development of the next generation of vaccines and therapeutic reagents.

The BEVS is also being used widely in drug discovery and the development of protein crystals of medically important proteins. Expression of proteins using this technology is consistent with high-throughput proteomic studies and produces most proteins in their biologically active conformation.

With the knowledge of the 3-dimensional structure, precise design of drugs that will act as ‘magic bullets' for the intervention of many diseases states is currently underway both in the private sector and academia. The broad acceptance of this technology by the scientific community is reflected in the determination by The Institute of Scientific Information that Dr. Summers is one of the top 250 most highly cited microbiologists in the world. The Houston Intellectual Property Law Association honored him in 1999 as Inventor of the Year.

Max Summers received an A.B. degree in biology in 1962 from Wilmington College and a PhD in entomology from Purdue University in 1968. Dr. Summers was an Assistant and an Associate Professor of Botany at the University of Texas before moving to Texas A&M as a Professor of Entomology. He has authored or co-authored more than 170 publications and trained more than 50 Doctoral and Post-Doctoral students. Indeed, one features of the Conference where Dr. Summers received his award was the recognition that many of his students have gone on to become leaders in Biomedical Research and their discoveries have had substantial impact upon the research and medical community.

Dr. Summers is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and served as Chair of Class VI. He is a Fellow in the American Academy of Microbiology, Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and is past-president of the American Society for Virology. Dr. Summers is also a member of the Entomological Society of American Foundation Board of Councilors and is currently on the Board of Directors of the Texas Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.