Three cancer researchers received the Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award for their invention of trastuzumab.
The recipients — H. Michael Shepard, PhD, founder, president and chief scientific officer of Receptor BioLogix; Dennis J. Slamon, MD, PhD, director of clinical/translational research at UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center and chief of the division of hematology/oncology for UCLA’s department of medicine; and Axel Ullrich, PhD, director of the molecular biology department at Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry in Germany — will share a $250,000 honorarium.
Trastuzumab (Herceptin, Genentech) — the first monoclonal antibody that targeted a protein encoded by an oncogene — has become a life-saving therapy for women with HER2-positive breast cancer.
Shepard and Ullrich — then both working at Genentech — collaborated with Slamon on research that showed trastuzumab in combination with chemotherapy slowed disease progression and prolonged survival compared with chemotherapy alone.
Slamon led the first human clinical trial of trastuzumab at UCLA in 1990. The FDA approved the agent in 1998 , and more than 2.3 million individuals have received the therapy.
“There were a lot of preconceived notions that this approach couldn’t work because prior antibody therapies in cancer had failed,” Slamon said in a UCLA-issued press release. “However, we had clear data to back us up and we really stuck to pursuing it. I grew up being told that I was only limited by my own ability. That always stayed with me. You have to be very careful and critical of your data, but if it looks correct, believe it and chase it despite what others may think.”
The Lasker Awards, given since 1945, recognize outstanding contributions to basic and clinical medical research and public service.
This year’s Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award was presented to Max D. Cooper, MD, professor of pathology at Emory University, and Professor Jacques Miller, emeritus professor at Walter and Eliza Hall institute of Medical Research and University of Melbourne in Australia, for their discovery of two distinct classes of lymphocytes — B and T cells — that established the course of modern immunology.
This year’s Lasker-Bloomberg Public Service Award was presented to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, for its effort to provide access to childhood vaccines around the world .