$1.5M National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director’s New Innovator Award

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Professor Keriann Backus receives prestigious $1.5 million New Innovator Award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) High-Risk, High-Reward Research program.  

Backus received the award for her research titled “A Systems-Level Approach to Decipher the Protein Interactome.’’ This work involves the development and application of novel chemistries to determine precisely where and when protein interactions occur.  

HRHR%20NIA%20final%20graphicEstablished in 2007, the Director’s New Innovator Award is a part of the High-Risk, High-Reward Research program, which supports highly innovative research from early stage investigators whose creativity and research have the potential to produce a major impact on broad, important problems relevant to the mission of NIH, including on topics related to behavioral, social, biomedical, applied, and formal sciences, as well as basic, translational, or clinical research.

Backus joined the UCLA faculty in 2018 as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biological Chemistry at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine and in the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry.  She was selected for UCLA’s Alexander and Renee Kolin Endowed Professorship of Molecular Biology and Biophysics in February 2020.

Backus received her bachelor’s degrees in chemistry and in Latin American studies from Brown University in 2007. As a 2007 Rhodes Scholar and an NIH Oxford Cambridge Scholar, Backus’ Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry was conducted jointly in the laboratories of Benjamin Davis (Oxford) and Clifton Barry (NIH, NIAID).  After completing her doctorate in 2012, she began an NIH postdoctoral fellowship at The Scripps Research Institute with Benjamin Cravatt.  

Backus’ current research aims to revolutionize the use of mass spectrometry-based proteomics to decipher the functions and therapeutic accessibility of human proteins. She is the recipient of several recent awards, including a V Scholar Grant, Beckman Young Investigator Award, DARPA Young Faculty Award and Packard Fellowship. To learn more about her research, visit the Backus group website

“The science put forward by this cohort is exceptionally novel and creative and is sure to push at the boundaries of what is known,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD. “These visionary investigators come from a wide breadth of career stages and show that groundbreaking science can happen at any career level given the right opportunity.”

In addition to the 64 New Innovator awards, the NIH issued 10 Pioneer awards, 19 Transformative Research awards, and 13 Early Independence awards.

The High-Risk, High-Reward Research Program is part of the NIH Common Fund, which oversees programs that pursue major opportunities and gaps throughout the research enterprise that are of great importance to NIH and require collaboration across the agency to succeed.

Penny Jennings, UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, penny@chem.ucla.edu.