About Lennart Philipson

»He Left A Strong Legacy.« – He was a talented, charismatic person who attracted the best scientists of a whole generation. He left a strong legacy in the places where he worked, says Ulf Pettersson, colleague of the late professor Lennart Philipson, the eminent virologist/ microbiologist and cofounder (with his wife Malin) of the Malin and Lennart Philipson Foundation. »A builder of scientific institutions«.      

Lennart Philipson died on June 26, 2011. Three obituaries provide a good picture of the scientist and the man. 

The first is by Ulf Pettersson, Senior Professor in Medical Genetics at the Department of Immunology, Genetics and Pathology, Uppsala University, the second by David Baltimore, the 1975 Nobel Laureate in Medicine or Physiology, now President Emeritus; Robert Andrews Millikan Professor of Biology, California Institute of Technology, and the third by Kai Simons of the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics and Iain W. Mattaj, Director General, European Molecular Biology Laboratory. 

In 1999 Lennart Philipson was awarded an honorary doctorate (MDhc) at Karolinska Institute.

»A Force of Nature«

David Baltimore wrote that Philipson was »a force of nature» in the lab.

»He is particularly noted for his work on the cellular receptors for viruses, on the assembly of adenoviruses, and on the control of adenovirus gene expression, but he made contributions to fields as disparate as serology and structure determination and everything in between«, wrote Baltimore. 

Baltimore added that Philipson also lead scientific institutes like the Wallenberg Laboratory in Sweden and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory. 

»Lennart was a rare and irreplaceable person, a true individual. His science was path-finding, his leadership strong and imaginative, his friendship deep. He will be missed by all who knew him«, Baltimore stated.

»Commitment to Excellence«

Kai Simons and Iain W. Mattaj wrote: “His uncompromising commitment to excellence and hard work was inspirational for the many young researchers he recruited and mentored.”

In an interview for this website, Ulf Pettersson explains:

– Lennart and I enjoyed a long, close relationship. He was a huge inspiration to me and mentored me as a young researcher in numerous ways. We also published a large number of papers together.  

– He was a talented, charismatic person who attracted the best scientists of a whole generation. Those who met him never forgot him. He trained many gifted researchers. He left a strong legacy in the places where he worked. 

»Unique Capacity of Acquiring Funding«

– As Director General of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, he turned EMBL into one of world´s leading research institutions. He recruited young principal investigators and started the successful PhD program there, that has trained scientific leaders all over the world. His capacity of acquiring funding was quite unique.

– He went on to build up the Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine at New York University, recruiting a stellar faculty from a creative mix of disciplines and similarly transforming the Institute into a world-class institution by setting rigorous academic standards and raising expectations. 

– Lennart also played an influential role in the Swedish pharmaceutical industry. For example, he initiated a research program that led to the development of new antiviral drugs and the foundation of the company Medivir.

– In the years following the 1975 Asilomar conference – a meeting convened by scientists in the field to discuss the potential biohazards and regulation of biotechnology – Lennart Philipson became identified in some groups in society as a proponent of dangerous research.  But he quite enjoyed the controversy and never took such criticism to heart. Subsequently, of course the fears have proven exaggerated. But at the time noone really knew the consequences of gene technology.

Read David Baltimore´s obituary “A Warrior Has Passed”

Read Ulf Petterson´s obituary of Lennart Philipson “A Fighter Has Gone”

Read Kai Simons and Iain W. Mattajs obituary “Lennart Phipson (1929-2011)” in Science

A documentary about Lennart Philipson
Short version
Long version