Dame Carol Robinson’s Work Unravelling the Molecules of Life Earns Her Lifetime Achievement Award

In a world increasingly driven by science and technology, the mastery of molecular interactions plays a crucial role in shaping our health, environment, and industry. British scientist Dame Carol Robinson, with her pioneering work in mass spectrometry, has profoundly influenced this arena.  The European Patent Office (EPO) is thrilled that Robinson received the prestigious Lifetime Achievement award today, which was presented by Swiss physicist and former winner Ursula Keller, at the European Inventor Award 2024 in Malta. Her methods, which allow for the detailed analysis of proteins and biological molecules in their native states, have opened new pathways in biomedical research and drug development, making significant strides toward personalised medicine and sustainable healthcare solutions. This award celebrates Robinson’s decades of contributions to science, marking her as a leader whose work has fundamentally advanced our understanding of the building blocks of life and underscored her role as a mentor and leader for women in science.

“As a scientist, I’ve always been quite fearless about going in my own direction. That has been my mantra throughout my career. I never wanted to follow the crowd. If everyone was focusing on proteomics, for example, I would choose to explore something entirely different to carve out my own niche,” says Robinson.

Advancing drug discovery and healthcare

Robinson’s work in developing native mass spectrometry has been a game-changer in the field of structural biology. Her method allows for the observation and analysis of proteins and complex biological structures as they exist within the body without the need to alter their natural state. This technique has provided critical insights into cellular mechanisms and protein functions.

Driven by a relentless curiosity and a passion for solving nature’s intricate puzzles, Carol Robinson reflects on the allure of mass spectrometry that captured her imagination and shaped her illustrious career. “Mass spectrometry is an analytical technique born out of chemistry, motivated by scientists trying to work out the molecular composition of a synthetic molecule. You’ve made something in the lab, but you’re not sure if you’ve got the right thing. Then you put it in the mass spectrometer, and it gives you the mass of that molecule. You could then break that molecular ion, and it would break in multiple different directions. This is why I fell in love with it as a technique since when I started, it was like a giant puzzle,” she explains.

A legacy of mentorship and innovation

Robinson’s scientific achievements have also translated into significant entrepreneurial success. In 2016, she co-founded OMass Therapeutics, translating her patented mass spectrometry technologies into revolutionary treatments for complex diseases. The company has swiftly grown, targeting currently unmet medical needs and pioneering therapies for conditions like immunological disorders and inflammatory diseases, reaffirming her profound impact on global healthcare.

Beyond her scientific and entrepreneurial accomplishments, Robinson is deeply committed to mentorship, particularly advocating for women in STEM. She is an active supporter of diversity and inclusion within the scientific community, mentoring more than 100 students and researchers throughout her career, ensuring that her legacy will continue to influence the scientific world for years to come.

All the winners of the 2024 edition of the European Inventor Award were announced at a hybrid ceremony today in Malta. You can stream the ceremony online. Find out more about the invention’s impact, the technology and the inventor’s story.

Next generation of the Young Inventors Prize in 2025 to take place in Iceland

During today’s ceremony in Malta, the European Patent Office (EPO) was excited to announce a new concept for the award, starting in 2025. From next year onward, the award will be held biennially, with the upcoming edition focusing on young innovators below 30 years-old whose inventions address one or more United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). An independent jury of former finalists will evaluate the entries, ensuring a fair and insightful selection process that honours the innovative spirit and achievements of the next generation of inventors. The 2025 edition will be celebrated in Iceland, marking the first of these newly biennial-focused awards, and the nominations period for all technological fields remains open from today until the end of September.

In alternating years, starting in 2026, the EPO will return to the original concept of the European Inventor Award, featuring its traditional categories of “Industry”, “Research”, “SMEs”, “Non-EPO countries”, “Lifetime Achievement”, and “Popular Prize”.