Pfizer’s Paul Mensah Is AIChE’s 2021 Industrial R&D Award Recipient

This fall, ChEnected is introducing readers to AIChE’s 2021 Institute and Board of Directors’ Award recipients. These awards are AIChE’s highest honors, for which candidates are nominated by the chemical engineering community and voted upon by the members of AIChE’s volunteer-led Awards Committee. The prizes recognize outstanding achievements and world-class contributions across a spectrum of chemical engineering endeavors. 

AIChE’s Industrial Research and Development Award recognizes individuals or teams working in industries served by chemical engineers, for innovation that has resulted in the commercial development of new products and/or new processes for making useful products. In 2021, the award has a new sponsor organization: AbbVie, a global biopharmaceuticals company.

Dr. Mensah’s recognition

The recipient of the 2021 Industrial R&D Award is Paul Mensah, Vice President of Biotherapeutics Pharmaceutical Sciences at Pfizer. 

Dr. Mensah is being recognized “for outstanding leadership of pharmaceutical biotechnology process development and clinical supply, including the development and supply of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.”

Mensah and the other Institute and Board of Directors’ Award recipients will receive their awards at the 2021 AIChE Annual Meeting, November 7–11 in Boston, Massachusetts. A video presentation of the awards will be available for viewing the following week at a virtual version of the Annual Meeting. Mensah is also slated to present a welcome keynote address to undergraduates attending the 2021 AIChE Student Conference.

Paul Mensah was instrumental in the development of the messenger RNA (mRNA) COVID-19 vaccine, Comirnaty®. Pfizer had joined forces with BioNtech in March 2020, and the global team was challenged to develop a vaccine for the pandemic by the end of 2020. The challenge was significant, as vaccines typically can take years to reach the public. Mensah’s team at Pfizer was tasked with developing and manufacturing the plasmid DNA template for the spike protein — the antigen for the vaccine — as well as the mRNA drug substance.

With mRNA being a new technology without a well-established process to rely on, Mensah’s team had to be innovative in its approach. By the time of the Emergency Use Authorization in November 2020, the team had successfully scaled up and validated the drug substance process — an accomplishment of almost incalculable importance to the world.  

More about this year’s winner

Dr. Mensah has spent his entire career at Pfizer, starting in the purification process development group and then moving into leadership roles in purification, cell culture and bioprocess R&D before his current role as head of Biotherapeutics Pharmaceutical Sciences.

His groups are responsible for developing and manufacturing the clinical supplies for all of Pfizer’s biotherapeutic and vaccine portfolio. In addition to the Comirnaty® COVID-19 vaccine, his team has helped to develop products including Trumenba®, Ixifli®, Trazimera®, Besponsa®, Bavencio®, Zirabev®, Ruxience®, and Prevnar-20, to name a few. He has also played in integral role in establishing Pfizer in the gene-therapy field.

Mensah earned his BS at Cornell University and his MS and PhD at the University of Virginia, all in chemical engineering, and he serves on the chemical engineering advisory boards at both schools. Within AIChE, he is on the managing board of the Society for Biological Engineers (SBE).

Stay in the know

In the weeks leading up to the 2021 AIChE Annual Meeting, ChEnected will feature the other 2021 Institute and Board of Directors’ Award recipients. Visit the ChEnected series regularly to meet all of this year’s honorees. Visit aiche.org/awards to see all award winners.