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Targeted Therapy Pioneers Slamon and Druker Awarded Sjoberg Prize

Published Online:9:06 PM, Thu February 7, 2019

Dennis Slamon, MD, PhD

Clinical researchers Dennis Slamon, MD, PhD, and Brian Druker, MD, were recently honored with the 2019 Sjöberg Prize for their ground-breaking contributions toward targeted therapy for patients with breast cancer and chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), respectively.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences will formally present the award during the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences Annual Meeting on March 31 in Stockholm, Sweden. Founded in 2016, the Sjöberg Prize has been awarded every year to recognize outstanding research in targeted therapies for cancer. It is funded by the Sjöberg foundation and carries a $1 million—$100,000 as a personal award and $900,000 for future research—which will be shared equally.

Slamon currently serves as director of clinical and translational research and as director of the Revlon/University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) Women’s Cancer Research Program at the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center (JCCC). He is also a professor of medicine, the chief of the Division of Hematology/Oncology, and an executive vice chair for research for UCLA’s Department of Medicine.

Brian Druker, MD

“I was deeply honored to receive such a prestigious award,” said Slamon, in a statement. “The award money will be very helpful in pursuing our objectives, identifying new targets in addition to the ones we have already targeted…. The idea is to identify targets on cancer cells that are not present on normal cells, and then to approach this therapeutically in the hopes of developing more effective and less toxic therapies.”

His clinical research led to the development of trastuzumab (Herceptin) for the treatment of patients with HER2-positive breast cancer, in which he identified and effectively targeted the HER2-positive gene alteration in the early 1980s. Trastuzumab, especially in combination with chemotherapy, was able to block uncontrolled cell division and stop the spread of aggressive breast cancer. This paradigm-shifting approach to cancer therapy has paved the way for an entirely new area of research, where he continues to be a leader. 

“Dr Slamon is most deserving for this recognition,” Michael Teitell, MD, the director of the JCCC, said in a statement. “I can’t overstate how his scientific achievements go beyond their impact on breast cancer. His work continues to benefit patients with cancer and their families worldwide.”

Co-winner Druker currently serves as the director of the Knight Cancer Institute at Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU). He also serves as the JELD-WEN Chair of Leukemia Research, in addition to his role as an investigator at Howard Hughes Medical Institute and a professor of medicine at OHSU.

"I am deeply honored to receive this prize and to join the company of the previous Sjöberg Prize award recipients, whom I hold in the highest regard," Druker said in a statement.

He, too, began his cancer research career in the 1980s at OHSU, where he identified the compound imatinib (Gleevac) for patients with CML, which received the fastest FDA approval in history in 2001. Imatinib was able to block defective proteins that drive the cancer and prevent the production of additional white blood cells without inducing severe toxicity in patients. In 2017, the New England Journal of Medicine published longer-term data of over 1000 patients showing a survival rate of nearly 90%. The agent then went on to receive additional indications to treat pediatric patients with CML and patients with gastrointestinal stromal tumors.

“Dr Druker’s pioneering work shaped the field of targeted cancer therapies and has provided hope to countless patients and their families,” said Danny Jacobs, MD, MPH, the president of OHSU, in a statement. “The OHSU community is delighted that his accomplishments are being honored with this important award, and we join him in his ongoing efforts to end cancer as we know it.”

Among Slamon and Druker, other awardees of the Sjöberg Prize include James Allison, PhD, of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, who went on to win the Nobel Prize in 2018.
Hochhaus A, Larson RA, Guilhot F, et al. Long-term outcomes of imatinib treatment for chronic myeloid leukemia. N Engl J Med. 2017;376(10):917-927. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa160934.

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