He obtained a degree of Engineer for Chemistry and Agricultural Industries at the University of Ghent in 1954, and started his research career as an enzymologist in the laboratory of Laurent Vandendriessche in Ghent. In 1956-57, he worked with Heinz Holter in Copenhagen (Denmark). In 1960, he obtained a fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation and joined the group of Bob Sinsheimer as a postdoc. At the California Institute of Technology Walter Fiers was exposed to Molecular Biology, which was then just developing, studying viral DNA. He demonstrated the physical, covalently closed circularity of Bacteriophage PhiX-174 DNA. In 1962, Fiers moved to Madison, Wisconsin, to work in the laboratory of future Nobel laureate, Gobind Khorana.
At the end of 1962, Fiers returned to Belgium and set up the Laboratory of Molecular Biology at the University of Ghent. His research involved Bacteriophage MS2; he was the first to establish the complete nucleotide sequence of a gene (1972) and of a viral genome (bacteriophage MS2)(1976). In 1978 Fiers and his team were the first to reveal the complete nucleotide-sequence of SV40. The development of totally new procedures and knowledge led to the ability to clone almost any gene and to express these efficiently in bacteria or in other heterologous hosts.
In 1997 Fiers retired and became Professor Emeritus, and the following year he retired from his position as director of the Laboratory of Molecular Biology. Together with Xavier Saelens and their team, he continued his research, to find a universal influenza vaccine, based on the M2 protein on the surface of the influenza A virus. The ectodomain of the M2 protein remains unchanged in all human influenza viruses known, including the strains that caused the pandemics in the last century, which makes it eligible for a universal influenza A vaccine.
- 1976: Francqui Prize for Exact Sciences.
- 1989: Carlos J. Finlay Prize for Microbiology.
- 1989: Artois-Baillet Latour Health Prize.
- 1991: Robert Koch Prize
- Fiers, W., and R. L. Sinsheimer, The structure of the DNA of bacteriophage PhiX 174. III. Ultracentrifuge evidence for a ring structure, J. Mol. Biol. 5:424-434, 1962
- Min Jou W, Haegeman G, Ysebaert M, Fiers W., Nucleotide sequence of the gene coding for the bacteriophage MS2 coat protein, Nature. 1972 May 12;237(5350):82-8
- Fiers W, Contreras R, Duerinck F, Haegeman G, Iserentant D, Merregaert J, Min Jou W, Molemans F, Raeymaekers A, Van den Berghe A, Volckaert G, Ysebaert M., Complete nucleotide-sequence of bacteriophage MS2-RNA - primary and secondary structure of replicase gene, Nature, 260, 500-507, 1976
- Fiers W, Contreras R, Haegemann G, Rogiers R, Van de Voorde A, Van Heuverswyn H, Van Herreweghe J, Volckaert G, Ysebaert M., Complete nucleotide-sequence of SV40 DNA, Nature, 273, 113-120, 1978
- Remaut E et al., Plasmid vectors for high-efficiency expression controlled by the PL promoter of coliphage-lambda, Gene, 15, 81-93, 1981
- Neirynck S, Deroo T, Saelens X, Vanlandschoot P, Jou WM, Fiers W, A universal influenza A vaccine based on the extracellular domain of the M2 protein, Nat Med. 1999 Oct;5(10):1157-63
- Fiers W, Neirynck S, Deroo T, Saelens X, Jou WM, Soluble recombinant influenza vaccines, Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2001 December 29;356(1416):1961-3
- Fiers W, De Filette M, Birkett A, Neirynck S, Min Jou W, A universal human influenza A vaccine, Virus Res. 2004 Jul;103(1-2):173-6
- De Filette M, Min Jou W, Birkett A, Lyons K, Schultz B, Tonkyro A, Resch S, Fiers W, Universal influenza A vaccine: optimization of M2-based constructs, Virology. 2005 June 20;337(1):149-61
- De Filette M, Ramne A, Birkett A, Lycke N, Löwenadler B, Min Jou W, Saelens X, Fiers W, The universal influenza vaccine M2e-HBc administered intranasally in combination with the adjuvant CTA1-DD provides complete protection, Vaccine. 2006 January 30;24(5):544-51