Earlier this month, The Lasker Foundation announced the recipients of its 2019 Lasker Awards for clinical and basic research and public service.
Lasker~DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award
H. Michael Shepard, PhD,formerly of Genentech, Dennis J. Slamon, MD, PhD, of the University of California, Los Angeles, and Axel Ullrich, PhD, of the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry (also formerly of Genentech), were honored with the Lasker~DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award. These researchers provided the first demonstration that monoclonal antibodies were a viable and effective strategy to treat solid tumors, opening a new path to develop and deploy antibodies to treat cancer. Their combined efforts culminated in the creation of trastuzumab.
The investigators later conducted complementary research that led to important clinical results— trastuzumab, when coupled with chemotherapy, stalled HER2-positive breast cancer progression and extended survival compared with treatment with chemotherapy alone.
Trastuzumab was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1988 and was among the earliest targeted therapies designed to block the growth of cancerous cells. Over 2.3 million individuals have been treated with trastuzumab to date.
Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award
Two scientists received this year’s Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award: Max D. Cooper, MD, of Emory University in Atlanta, and Jacques Miller, AC, FRS, FAA, of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne. The two identified and defined the function of B and T cells, uncovering the organizing principle of the adaptive immune response. Dr. Miller showed that the thymus is essential for immune function. Dr. Cooper then demonstrated that there are two distinct cell lineages in the adaptive immune system: B cells and T cells. These and other seminal discoveries by the investigators defined the field of adaptive immunity and serve as the building blocks for current immunology research and clinical advances.
All photos courtesy of The Lasker Foundation.
Lasker~Bloomberg Public Service Award
Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance received the Lasker~Bloomberg Public Service Award. The Alliance plays an integral role in providing vaccines to millions of underimmunized children worldwide by means of a unique and sustainable economic model and innovative delivery systems. Since its launch in 2000, Gavi has helped vaccinate over 760 million children and save over 13 million lives in 73 countries.
Gavi buys vaccines for approximately 60% of children worldwide. By buying vaccines in such large quantities, it can negotiate reduced pricing for drugs while sustaining suppliers. The Alliance has helped create a new delivery infrastructure, from solar-powered refrigerators to drone delivery.
By pooling the resources of private and public partners, Gavi helps establish and maintain effective immunization programs. These interventions have generated an estimated $150 billion in economic benefits through productivity gains and health-care cost savings. Gavi ultimately aims to strengthen developing countries’ health systems and help them build self-sufficient immunization programs.
For 74 years, the Lasker Awards have recognized the contributions of leaders who made major advances in the understanding, diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of human disease. The Lasker Medical Research Awardees are selected by an international jury chaired by Joseph L. Goldstein, recipient of the 1985 Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research and the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Lasker~Bloomberg Public Service Award winners are selected by a jury chaired by Alfred Sommer, recipient of the 1997 Lasker Award for Clinical Medical Research.
The awards carry an honorarium of $250,000 for each category and were presented on September 20 in New York. For more information, visit www.laskerfoundation.org. ■