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Carolyn Bertozzi awarded 2020 Solvay Prize

Stanford professor honored for her invention of bioorthogonal chemistry

by Linda Wang
March 17, 2020


Credit: Fabrice Debatty /Solvay
Nicolas Boël, Chairman of Solvay (from left); Ronald J. Gidwirz, American Ambassador in Belgium; Ilham Kadri, CEO of Solvay; His Majesty King Philip of Belgium; Carolyn Bertozzi; and Hakan Wennerström, Chairman of the Jury of the Solvay Prize.

Carolyn Bertozzi, the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Chemistry at Stanford University, is the 2020 Laureate of the Chemistry for the Future Solvay Prize for her invention of bioorthogonal chemistry—a class of chemical reactions performed in living cells and organisms. Bioorthogonal chemistry has applications from the molecular imaging of cells and drug-target identification, to the creation of next-generation biotherapeutics.

Bertozzi received the €300,000 prize (approximately $334,860) on March 10 at a ceremony in Brussels. “Professor Bertozzi is truly reinventing scientific progress with bioorthogonal chemistry,” says Ilham Kadri, CEO of Solvay, in a statement. “We firmly believe that her work marks a spectacular, original advancement in chemistry, with likely life-saving applications in therapeutics.”

The Solvay Prize is awarded every 2years to recognize major scientific discoveries with the potential to shape tomorrow’s chemistry and help human progress. Solvay created the prize in 2013 to honor founder Ernest Solvay’s lifelong support of and passion for scientific research.

In her research, Bertozzi is using bioorthogonal chemistry to study the role of glycans—sugar structures coating our cells—in cancer, inflammation, and bacterial infection. Her insights are leading to the development of new diagnostics and therapies. In fact, Bertozzi has launched 7 biotech companies in 12 years to commercialize the technologies she’s developed.

“Bioorthogonal chemistry has ignited many allied fields, including physical organic and synthetic chemistry, as well as biomedical science and drug discovery,” Bertozzi says in a statement. “Biotherapeutics enabled by these chemistries are now having real clinical impact. And basic scientists have found bioorthogonal chemistry techniques to be powerful tools for probing cell biology at the molecular scale.”



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