London, 1 July, 2009 Johnson & Johnson today announced that Axel Ullrich, Ph.D., director of the Department of Molecular Biology at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry in Germany, whose discoveries have led to novel cancer therapies including Herceptin (trastuzumab) , is the winner of the 2009 Dr. Paul Janssen Award for Biomedical Research. An independent committee of world-renowned scientists selected Dr. Ullrich, who on September 8 will receive a $100,000 prize during a ceremony in Beerse, Belgium.
"Dr. Ullrich was chosen for his pioneering work in applying molecular biology and molecular cloning to the discovery of protein therapeutics for the treatment of a wide range of diseases, including diabetes and cancer," said Solomon Snyder, M.D., distinguished service professor of Neuroscience, Pharmacology and Psychiatry, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and chairman of The Dr. Paul Janssen Award Selection Committee.
"He is one of few basic scientists whose work not only has influenced academic research, but also has helped millions of patients suffering from major chronic diseases," Snyder continued. "We received a number of outstanding nominations for this year's Award and are pleased to acknowledge Dr. Ullrich with this distinction. His work has had a remarkable impact on human health and truly embodies the efforts of the Award's namesake, 'Dr. Paul,' who helped save millions of lives through his contribution to the discovery and development of more than 80 medicines."
Ullrich has pioneered the translation of genomics-based discoveries into novel approaches for the treatment of major diseases. Working at Genentech, Inc. in the early 1980s, he developed genetically engineered human insulin, the first therapeutic derived from gene cloning. In 1987, Ullrich and collaborators discovered that the neu/HER2 gene is amplified and overexpressed in more than 30 percent of invasive breast cancers. HER2 was chosen for the development of an entirely novel cancer therapy, culminating in the production of an anti-HER2 monoclonal antibody that since 1998 has been used successfully to treat patients with metastatic breast cancer. This was the first targeted therapeutic agent developed on the basis of a newly discovered gene with an oncogenic function in human cancer.
In the early 1990s, Ullrich identified the signaling system involved in regulating tumor angiogenesis, the growth of blood vessels in tumors. He discovered that inhibiting a key player in the signaling system (called vascular endothelial growth factor receptor or VEGFR) suppresses the generation of blood vessels in tumors and slows down cancer cell growth. Years later, a small molecule inhibitor of the VEGFR2 kinase function was developed, from which a derivative was approved in 2006 for the treatment of kidney carcinoma and gastro-intestinal stromal tumors.
"It is an honor to receive an award of this stature and to be recognized among so many outstanding scientists," said Ullrich. "Dr. Paul is a legend whose work had a tremendous impact on combating some of the world's most serious diseases. Four of the more than 80 medicines he developed are on the World Health Organization's list of essential medicines."
"Johnson & Johnson is pleased the Selection Committee chose Dr. Ullrich as the recipient of the 2009 Dr. Paul Janssen Award, as we believe that his discoveries capture the spirit and legacy of Dr. Paul," said Paul Stoffels, M.D., global head, Research & Development, Pharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson. "Dr. Paul's passion for his work and dedication to creating life-saving therapies for the individuals most in need should continue to serve as an inspiration to the scientific community as we carry on with our quest to care for the world, one patient at a time."
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