Dr. Kenneth Chang and Professor Philip Felgner awarded by OCBJ

September 9, 2021

Two of our UCI Health Affairs superstars have been recognized for their trailblazing work by the Orange County Business Journal (OCBJ).

Dr. Kenneth Chang has been named the 2021 OCBJ Innovator of the Year, and Professor Philip Felgner has been awarded the OCBJ Global Impact Award.

Dr. Chang and Professor Felgner were honored at a celebratory event on Thursday. Both brilliantly represent UCI, our culture of innovation, our dedication to the Discover. Teach. Heal. mission, and our commitment to making a difference for people in Orange County and around the world.

From left, Dr. Kenneth Chang, Dr. Steve Goldstein, Professor Philip Felgner at the OCBJ Innovator of the Year Awards ceremony. Photo credit: Laurel Hungerford Photography.

Dr. Chang is executive director of our flagship H.H. Chao Comprehensive Digestive Disease Center, the Vincent and Anna Kong Endowed Chair in GI Endoscopic Oncology, Professor of Medicine and Chief of the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, at the UCI School of Medicine.

An internationally recognized clinician and innovator with advanced expertise in gastrointestinal endoscopy, Dr. Chang has devoted his career to advancing the standards of care for those suffering from digestive diseases. His clinical research focuses on development of endoscopic modalities for cancer and pre-cancer diagnosis, staging and therapy. 

Dr. Chang led the development and use of endoscopic ultrasound (EUS)-guided portal pressure gradients to assess liver health. After he demonstrated the safety and accuracy of the procedure in pilot studies, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the procedure last year, and he has since taught the procedure to hundreds of GI specialists around the world, saving countless lives.

Dr. Chang holds five patents, and by developing and pioneering the use of EUS-guided fine needle aspiration (FNA) and EUS-guided fine needle injection (FNI), paved the way for interventional endoscopy and interventional EUS. One of the most widely used endoscopic devices world-wide is the Barrx90 radiofrequency device, which bears the name “Chang Cap,” recognizing his advances. Dr. Chang has authored more than 470 publications and book chapters.

Dr. Chang completed a fellowship in gastroenterology at UCI Medical Center and the UCI School of Medicine, where he has been a faculty member for more than 25 years. 

Professor Felgner is Director of the UCI Vaccine Research and Development Center, and the Protein Microarray Laboratory and Training Facility. Professor Felgner’s lifelong work supported the development of the first commercially available mRNA vaccines currently on the U.S. market, specifically the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for SARS-CoV-2.

Professor Felgner’s lab studies the immune response to infectious agents to identify antigens in bodily fluids. This has included the development of high throughput approaches to clone and express all proteins encoded in a microorganism’s DNA and print them to microarrays. This novel process has led to cloning 70,000 genes from 35 microorganisms and, combined with an inventory of over 25,000 sera from infected, vaccinated, and healthy people worldwide, has allowed the identification of the best antigens for blood tests and vaccines including for SARS-CoV-2, its variants, and other viruses. This work set the stage for the massive undertaking of Professor Felgner and his team to provide evidence-based, actionable data in support of public health efforts across Orange County from the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Professor Felgner’s work has also been deeply influential in immune diagnostics, leading to 50 patents, 280 published papers, and the founding of two companies, Nanommune and Antigen Discovery.

Professor Felgner joined UCI in 2002 after two decades in the biotechnology industry, during which time he founded Vical Inc., in San Diego based on his discovery of DNA vaccines and where he served as Chief Scientific Officer. In 1985, he discovered and developed ‘Lipofection’ DNA and RNA transfection technology, the most widely used approach for introducing nucleic acid into cultured cells. This achievement preceded the development of lipid nanoparticles (LNP) in the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

Professor Felgner was recently awarded Spain’s prestigious Princess of Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific Research, acknowledging his contributions to the design of COVID-19 vaccines.

Both Dr. Chang and Professor Felgner are giants in the health field and are so deserving of these acknowledgements. Congratulations!

Category: Awards & Honors In the Community