Three researchers won prestigious medical awards for a new approach to treating cancer and insights into how creatures deal with DNA damage, according to Malcomb Ritter of Associated Press and reported in Drug Discovery News
. The Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation also honored the medical group Doctors Without Borders. Now in their 70th year, the Lasker prizes, which have an honorarium of $250,000 each, are being presented September18 in New York City.
James Allison, chair of immunology atf the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, won the Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award. The Lasker Foundation said he "cracked open a brand-new therapeutic world" by finding a particular way to make a patient's body attack cancer. That methodology has significantly prolonged survival for many people with advanced cases of the deadly skin cancer melanoma, according to the foundation.
Allison's work concerned a protein on the surface of certain disease-fighting cells of the immune system. Using mice, Allison demonstrated that the protein was keeping the immune system from attacking tumors, and that stopping its effect could fight cancers. When research studies showed success in human patients, the federal government approved a drug based on the methodology in 2011. Ipilimumab, approved to treat metastatic melanoma by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, was the first therapeutic to improve survival rates among patients with this deadly form of cancer. The general approach is currently being tested against many other cancers.
Allison, internationally known for his role in developing a new class of cancer immunotherapies, was also named a recipient of the 2015 Pezcoller Foundation-American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) International Award for Cancer Research at the organization’s annual meeting in Philadelphia in April. He was acknowledged for his groundbreaking discovery that blocking cytotoxic T lymphocyte-associated antigen 4 (CTLA-4) signaling improves antitumor immune responses, as well as for his role in developing the CTLA-4 inhibitor ipilimumab (Yervoy), the first of a new class of cancer immunotherapeutics called immune checkpoint inhibitors. At MD Anderson, Allison also serves as associate director of the Center for Cancer Immunology Research, deputy director of the David H. Koch Center for Applied Research in Genitourinary Cancer, the Lilian H. Smith distinguished chair of immunology and a member of the AACR board of directors. He is also deputy editor of Cancer Immunology Research and scientific editor of Cancer Discovery, according to a press release from MD Anderson
Stephen Elledge of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and Evelyn Witkin, a professor emerita at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, shared the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award. They established the foundation for understanding how humans and other creatures respond to DNA damage from radiation, chemicals or other causes. Witkin began investigating radiation resistance in bacteria in 1944, and Elledge started work on DNA damage in yeast in the 1980s.
Doctors Without Borders received the Lasker-Bloomberg Public Service Award “for bold leadership in responding to the recent Ebola outbreak in Africa and for sustained and effective frontline responses to health emergencies." Founded in France in 1971, DWB offers medical assistance and humanitarian aid in response to war, famine, infectious disease and natural disasters.