WASHINGTONAmid the artworks and antiques of the
Diplomatic Rooms of the US State Department, the General Motors
Cancer Research Foundation presented its awards to four scientists
for their work related to cancer.
Ronald Levy, MD, professor of medicine and oncology, Stanford
University, received the 1999 Charles F. Kettering Prize, presented
for the most outstanding contribution to the diagnosis or
treatment of cancer. Dr. Levys work has ranged from basic
immunologic studies to clinical trials of monoclonal antibodies. His
research led to the development of C2B8, which became the first
monoclonal antibody approved by the FDA for treatment of cancer.
Marketed as Rituxan (rituximab), the drug is used in patients with
chemotherapy- and radiation-resistant low-grade lymphomas.
Ronald Levys career has been a model of the
physician-scientist engaged in translational research, said
Martin D. Abeloff, MD, director of the Johns Hopkins Cancer Center.
He recalled the excitement in 1982 in reading the New England
Journal of Medicine article of the first successful treatment of a
human with monoclonal antibodies.
Dr. Levy is now directing his attention to using monoclonal
antibodies to identify target molecules on cancer cells that can then
be used to create vaccines. Recent clinical trials have shown
that lymphoma patients who are vaccinated and make a response against
their tumors stay in remission longer and live longer than patients
who do not, Dr. Levy said.
Discovery of p53
Arnold J. Levine, PhD, president of Rockefeller University, won the
Charles S. Mott Prize, awarded for the most outstanding recent
contribution to the discovery of the cause or ultimate prevention of
cancer. The prize went to Dr. Levine for isolating, cloning,
and characterizing the biologic properties of the p53 tumor
suppressor gene. The GM Foundation said his work is one of the
most importance advances in our understanding of cancer within the
last 2 decades.
Edison T. Liu, MD, of the National Cancer Institute, said that
p53 has touched the field of cancer in many waysin
immunology, cancer susceptibility, drug resistance, and most recently
the development of ONYX-015, an engineered adenovirus that targets
p53 mutant tumors.
The Sloan Award
Robert G. Roeder, PhD, professor and head of the Laboratory of
Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, The Rockefeller University, and
Robert Tjian, PhD, professor of molecular and cell biology,
University of California, Berkeley, shared the Alfred P. Sloan, Jr.,
Prize for the most outstanding recent basic science
contribution to cancer research.
Their discoveries have expanded the understanding of the mechanism
and regulation of gene transcription in eukaryocytic cells, the GM
Foundation said. This has been a major objective because of its
fundamental importance to all of biology, including the
transformation of cells from benign to malignant.
Both Bob and I really are hard-core biochemists, Dr.
Tjian remarked during his laureate lecture. We want to tear the
machinery down and then put it back together again. But to do that,
we have to understand the pathways.
Dr. Roeder was cited for his contributions to the understanding of
the mechanisms of basal gene transcription and the proteins involved
in the process. Dr. Tjian was honored for his discovery of proteins
that interact with the upstream regulatory regions of viruses and
cellular promoters and for determining the mechanisms that control
cell- and tissue-specific gene expression.
In trying to understand complex diseases, such as cancer,
inflammatory diseases, or immune diseases, we will ultimately have to
understand how you turn genes up and down, Dr. Tjian said.
And through these detailed, mechanistic studies, using a
combination of biochemistry and genetics, we should eventually
understand the Achilles heels of these diseases and then design or
isolate small molecules or antibodies to influence or manipulate the
rate of transcription.