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Four Researchers Receive General Motors Awards

Four Researchers Receive General Motors Awards

WASHINGTON—Amid 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.

Monoclonal Antibodies

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. Levy’s 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 Levy’s 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 ways—in 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.”

 
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