Renowned biotech researcher to receive TJU's Lennox K. Black International Prize

Published on November 27, 2012 at 3:33 AM · No Comments

Thomas Jefferson University will honor the renowned biotech researcher whose discoveries led to a slew of innovative drugs that revolutionized treatment including Herceptin-one of the first gene-based medications for breast cancer-with its prestigious Lennox K. Black International Prize for Excellence in Biomedical Research.

Axel Ullrich, Ph.D., director of the Department of Molecular Biology at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry in Germany, will receive the recognition for his work in individualized medicine during a two-day symposium that will feature speakers from Jefferson, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Johns Hopkins University, Genentech and former Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson Director Carlo Croce, M.D., Director of the Human Cancer Genetics Program at The Ohio State University.

The symposium, "Individualized Medicine," will be held November 29 and 30 on the Jefferson campus at the Dorrance H. Hamilton Building, Connelly Auditorium, 1001 Locust Street. The prize award and keynote speech by Dr. Ullrich will begin at 2:30 p.m. on Nov. 29. Michael J. Vergare, M.D., Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs, and Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Jefferson, will present the award to Dr. Ullrich on behalf of the University.

The prize is awarded every two years to recognize the impact of pioneering biomedical research on the alleviation of human disease and suffering. Another goal is to draw the international scientific research community together in recognition of the ability of the spirit of human inquiry to transcend national boundaries and divisions.

For the past 25 plus years, Dr. Ullrich has been a leader in the biotechnology world, translating many of his basic science discoveries into clinical applications. Dr. Ullrich and his team's research led to the development of the drug Humulin (human insulin for diabetes), which is the first therapeutic agent ever to be developed through gene-based technology.

Another product based on Dr. Ullrich's work is the anti-cancer drug Herceptin (trastuzumab). In the mid-1980s, Dr. Ullrich and collaborators discovered that 30 percent of breast cancer patients overexpress the HER2 gene, which is a gene involved in the development of invasive cancers. This was the basis for the development of a monoclonal antibody that inhibits HER2 production, known as Herceptin, which been used since the late 1990s to treat patients with metastatic breast cancer. It has been shown to improve overall survival and prevents tumor recurrence in many women.

Dr. Ullrich received his primary degree in biochemistry at the University of Tubingen, Germany, and his Ph.D. from the University of Heidelberg in Molecular Genetics in 1975. He worked as a senior scientist at Genentech in San Francisco from 1978 to 1988. Since then, he has been Managing Director of the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry.

He also received the 2010 Wolf Prize for research on human proto-oncogenes and development of novel cancer therapies.

After the award and keynote speech are delivered, Marc S. Williams, M.D., Director of the Genomic Medicine Institute, Geisinger Health System, and David Nash, M.D., MBA, Dean of Jefferson School of Population Health, will address the symposium. A poster session and reception hosted by the Chairman of the symposium planning committee, Stephen C. Peiper, M.D., Peter A. Herbut Professor and Chair, in the Department of Pathology, Anatomy and Cell Biology at Jefferson, will follow.

Several researchers will speak on Nov. 30, beginning at 8:30 a.m., at the Bluemle Life Sciences Building, 233 S 10th Street, Room 101, on "The Role of Structural Biology in Precision Medicine." That includes John M. Pascal, Ph.D., of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Jefferson, Wei Yang, Ph.D., a Senior Investigator and Section Chief at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases at the NIH, Daniel J. Leahy, Ph.D., Professor of Biophysics and Biophysical Chemistry, Johns Hopkins University, and Chris Bowden, M.D., Vice President of Product Development for Signal Transduction Inhibitors, Genentech.

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