A scientist on the front lines of developing a vaccine for COVID-19 today was selected as the recipient of this year’s Templeton Prize, an award recognizing his contributions to insight about religion through his work as a scientist.

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, told CNA that working to develop the coronavirus vaccine is one of the biggest challenges of his career, and that these days when he is not working, he is finding solace in prayer and reading the psalms.

“Like all crises, like all occasions of suffering, this is an opportunity where we can learn and grow. And I’m glad that I worship a God who knows about suffering,” Collins, an evangelical Christian, told CNA.

The Templeton Prize, established in 1972 by global investor and philanthropist Sir John Templeton, is an annual cash award of £1.1 million ($1.3 million) to a living person who has made “an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery or practical works.”

St. Teresa of Calcutta was the inaugural recipient of the award in 1973.

Before joining the NIH in 2009, Dr. Collins had been professor of internal medicine and human genetics at the University of Michigan, leading research that had discovered the genes responsible for diseases such as cystic fibrosis; neurofibromatosis; Huntington’s disease; and Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome, a rare form of premature aging.

In 1993, he was appointed director of the National Center for Human Genome Research, overseeing the Human Genome Project, an international collaboration that in 2003 succeeded in sequencing the three billion DNA “letters” in the human genome.

Now, Collins is overseeing the NIH’s collaboration with several pharmaceutical companies and government agencies to develop a vaccine for COVID-19. At least one potential vaccine will be ready to begin large-scale testing by July with others to follow soon, Collins told The Associated Press last week.

“I pray for wisdom, for guidance, I pray for forgiveness for making mistakes along the way,” Collins told CNA.

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