Baric among 9 to receive 2020-21 North Carolina Awards, state’s highest honor

November 18, 2021

Dr. Ralph Baric

Dr. Ralph Baric

Ralph S. Baric, PhD, William R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor of epidemiology at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, is one of nine distinguished North Carolinians to receive the state’s highest civilian honor, the North Carolina Award. Governor Roy Cooper will present the award during the annual awards gala at the North Carolina Museum of Art.

The award was created by the General Assembly in 1961 to recognize significant contributions to the state and nation in the fields of fine arts, literature, public service and science.

Photo: From left: Governor Roy Cooper, Blake Wilson, Maria Spaulding, Ralph Baric, David Holt, Dudley Flood, Kizzmekia Corbett, and DNCR Secretary Reid Wilson. Not pictured: Francis Collins, Tim Tyson and André Leon Talley.

From left: Governor Roy Cooper, Blake Wilson, Maria Spaulding, Ralph Baric, David Holt, Dudley Flood, Kizzmekia Corbett, and DNCR Secretary Reid Wilson. Not pictured: Francis Collins, Tim Tyson and André Leon Talley.

The 2020 honorees are Baric, Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD, and Kizzmekia S. Corbett, PhD. All will receive the North Carolina Award for Science in recognition of their work to develop treatments and vaccines for COVID-19.

The 2021 honorees are Dudley E. Flood, EdD, for Public Service, David Holt for Fine Arts, Maria F. Spaulding for Public Service, André Leon Talley for Literature, Timothy B. Tyson, PhD, for Literature and Blake S. Wilson, PhD, DEng, DSc, for Science.

“Through their extraordinary accomplishments, these individuals have enriched N.C. and our nation,” said Reid Wilson, secretary of the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. “Each of them has enhanced the lives of North Carolinians through their lasting achievements in the arts, sciences and public service.”

Baric has spent the past three decades as a world leader in the study of coronaviruses, and now his research is aiding in the fight against COVID-19. Baric’s research pioneered COVID-19 treatments, including the drugs remdesivir and molnupiravir, and tested the efficacy and safety of vaccines to prevent the disease. His research group also helped to develop life-saving therapeutic antibody treatments and vaccines that prevent COVID-19 infections. Baric serves as the William R. Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor in the Department of Epidemiology and professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where his lab has made UNC a world leader in coronavirus research.

“The Triangle area is very special for biotechnology and science that can translate into products for human health,” said Baric. “It’s a great place to be. I love the Tar Heel State.”

Kizzmekia S. Corbett, PhD

Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett

Alongside Baric, the 2020 North Carolina Award for Science will also be given to another researcher with a Carolina connection: Kizzmekia Corbett. Corbett is a viral immunologist who earned a doctoral degree in microbiology and immunology from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2014. She recently joined Harvard University, where she is an assistant professor of immunology and infectious diseases at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Shutzer Assistant Professor at the Harvard Radcliffe Institute. Corbett worked on a vaccine to protect people from COVID-19 almost from the beginning of the pandemic in 2019. It was reported that it took a mere 66 days for her team, which partnered with the biotechnology company Moderna, to produce a vaccine that entered its Phase 1 clinical trial. Her team’s research built on previous coronavirus studies which allowed for a quick turnaround. Reassuring skeptics of the safety and efficacy of the vaccine has been Corbett’s mission since it was authorized for human use. She has used her national prominence as a vaccine researcher to address lingering vaccine hesitancy, particularly in the Black community.

Learn more about the 2020-21 North Carolina Awards winners.


Contact the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health communications team at sphcomm@unc.edu.

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