Penny Heaton
Penny Heaton

Penny Heaton, chief executive officer of The Bill and Melinda Gates Medical Research Institute, is the 2018 Alumna of the Year. The prestigious honor is bestowed upon alumni of the university who have used their education to give back to their communities and the world through their work.

Heaton graduated from UofL with both her undergraduate degree from the College of Arts and Sciences in 1986 and her Doctor of Medicine in 1990. She went on to complete her medical residency though UofL’s School of Medicine.

As the CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Medical Research Institute, Heaton is the driving force behind an organization focused on developing life-saving vaccines and medicines for diseases that disproportionately affect the world’s poorest and most vulnerable populations. She strives to ensure that the latest in cutting-edge technology is being used to save lives indiscriminately.

“The University of Louisville helped turn a young woman’s passion for science into a career focused on reducing global health inequities,” Heaton said. “It’s truly an honor to receive the Alumna of the Year award from my alma mater. I’m grateful for my time at this incredible institution, and I’m proud to be recognized alongside such an impressive group of Alumni Fellows.”

Heaton devoted much of her life to developing vaccines after watching her father struggle in a nearly fatal battle with tuberculosis. Her passion was only deepened after spending time in Kenya, studying the effects of vaccines in impoverished communities. It was after that trip that she turned her sights to the private sector, spending the next 15 years developing vaccines.

She was a part of the team that developed the vaccine for rotavirus, which is projected to possibly save 1.7 million people in the next decade. Heaton also contributed to vaccine research serving in a variety of positions at Novavax, Novartis, and Merck and Co, and she is board-certified in Pediatrics and Pediatric Infectious Diseases.

In addition to Heaton, the Alumni Awards recognize 13 Alumni Fellows, from each of the schools as well as University Libraries and Student Affairs, for exemplary work in their respective fields. The event will take place Oct. 25, at the Henry Clay Building downtown. Attendees may register here.

“This year’s alumni awardees are true examples of leadership and excellence both at UofL and in their respective fields,” said Josh Hawkins, assistant vice president of alumni relations and annual giving. “We are overjoyed to celebrate Penny and our 13 alumni fellows because of their significant contributions to their communities, the university and the world.”