Penn’s first non-fungible token (NFT)
A still image from the 3D animated video component of the non-fungible token (Image: Courtesy Penn Medicine and Christie's)

Wharton’s Stevens Center for Innovation in Finance Leads Development of Penn’s First NFT

Innovation abounds at Penn – through scientific breakthroughs addressing COVID-19 and novel partnerships that memorialize such milestones in the University’s history. Penn’s first non-fungible token (NFT) has been developed to commemorate research at the Perelman School of Medicine that helped lead the fight against COVID-19 through mRNA-based vaccines. The development of the NFT was led by the Wharton School’s Stevens Center for Innovation in Finance, which includes a Blockchain Laboratory, in collaboration with Penn Medicine and the Penn Center for Innovation (PCI).

The launch of the NFT represents a landmark in the University’s foray into the digital asset space. The Stevens Center worked with Penn Medicine and PCI to conceptualize and create the NFT design, implement minting of the token on the Ethereum blockchain network, and orchestrate auction details with Christie’s. The digital asset was auctioned by Christie’s and proceeds from the sale will support ongoing research across Penn. NYDIG, an industry leader in providing Bitcoin custody and financial services, served as custodian for the auction.

According to Sarah Hammer, WG’99, L’11, Managing Director of the Stevens Center for Innovation in Finance, “It has been an honor to work with Dr. Weissman and the entire Penn team on this groundbreaking blockchain project to memorialize the mRNA invention.”

Adding to the deep meaning this holds for Penn, the NFT’s winning bidder was George A. Weiss, W’65, HON’14, a University of Pennsylvania Trustee Emeritus; an emeritus member of the Penn Medicine Board; and a Wharton alumnus. In addition to his vast service and leadership, Weiss has provided expansive support to undergraduate scholarships, professorships, medical research, athletics, and more.

The Stevens Center for Innovation in Finance was established with the support and partnership of Ross Stevens, W’91. “We had high hopes and expectations for exploring the future of finance when the Center launched at Wharton,” said Stevens. “The NFT development exceeds my imagination. What a proud moment for Penn. It goes to show you the power of brilliant minds coming together, and it is an honor to celebrate such history-making through the Stevens Center.”

The University of Pennsylvania mRNA NFT: Vaccines for a New Era was designed by Penn and Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, the Roberts Family Professor in Vaccine Research, who, with Katalin Karikó, PhD, an adjunct professor of Neurosurgery at Penn and a senior vice president at BioNTech, pioneered the mRNA modification technology that plays a critical role in both the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for COVID-19 that have impacted billions of people globally. This modified mRNA platform holds promise against many other diseases impacting the world; vaccines in development include a pan-coronavirus vaccine to prevent future pandemics and a universal flu vaccine, among others. The NFT features a 3D animation of the modified mRNA that protects the immune system from SARS-CoV-2.

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