Dr. Lewis Cantley, a leading cancer researcher credited with discovering a family of enzymes fundamental to understanding cancer, was named a winner of the inaugural Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, the world’s richest academic prize for medicine and biology. The prize, which carries a $3 million cash award, recognizes excellence in research aimed at curing intractable diseases and human life.
Dr. Cantley is director of the recently established Cancer Center at Weill Cornell Medical College and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and the Margaret and Herman Sokol Professor in Oncology Research and professor of cancer biology in medicine at Weill Cornell. Dr. Cantley was awarded the prize for his landmark discovery of the signaling pathway phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K), which explains the growth of a cell and has major implications in cancer. His pioneering research discovered that human cancers frequently have mutations in PI3K and, for the past three decades, he has worked to identify new treatments for cancers that result from defects in this pathway.
Dr. Cantley is among a group of 11 recipients of the Breakthrough Prize, each receiving $3 million. The Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences Foundation, a not-for-profit corporation dedicated to advancing breakthrough research, celebrating scientists and generating excitement about the pursuit of science as a career, will administer the prize. The awards were announced on February 20 in San Francisco, Calif., by the Foundation’s chairman of the Board, Art Levinson, as well as the Foundation’s founding sponsors, Yuri Milner, Sergey Brin, Anne Wojcicki, Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan.
"I am honored and deeply humbled to be selected for this prestigious award," Dr. Cantley said. "It’s a privilege to be in the company of such absolutely specular scientists whose contributions have truly made a difference in the lives of patients. I’m very grateful to the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences Foundation for recognizing achievements that have defined my career."
All winners of the inaugural Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences have agreed to serve on the Foundation’s Selection Committee to choose recipients for future prizes. The Foundation plans to give five annually. The recipients have also been invited to present talks targeted for a general audience that will be made available to the public, enabling everyone to keep abreast of the latest development in life sciences.
"I am delighted for Dr. Cantley, whose groundbreaking research into the mechanisms that drive the development of cancer has led to landmark discoveries that have revolutionized the study and treatment of this devastating disease," says Dr. Laurie H. Glimcher, the Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean of Weill Cornell Medical College. "This award is a testament to the excellence Dr. Cantley brings in cancer research at Weill Cornell."
As director of the Cancer Center at Weill Cornell Medical College and NewYork-Presbyterian, Dr. Cantley is leading efforts to employ precision medicine for cancer diagnosis and treatment. The Center ensures that patients can immediately benefit from the latest discoveries and treatments, especially in clinical trials, while training future researchers and recruiting leaders in cancer research and clinical care.
Dr. Cantley is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. He is one of the world's most pre-eminent scientists in both basic and clinical cancer research and a Cornell University alumnus. Dr. Cantley has made significant advances in cancer research stemming from his discovery of PI3K in the mid-'80s. This discovery, which has led to one of the most promising avenues for the development of personalized cancer therapies, has since resulted in revolutionary treatments for cancer, diabetes and autoimmune diseases.
Most recently, Dr. Cantley's research has focused on characterizing the mechanism by which PI3K is activated by growth factors and cancer-causing oncogenes, and elucidating PI3K's pathways, including Akt/PKB -- critical proteins that regulate cell survival and proliferation in normal and cancer cells. In the course of his work, Dr. Cantley's laboratory has revealed the structural basis for regulated interaction of these signaling proteins, and this technique has led to a bioinformatics approach for predicting signaling pathways on the basis of gene sequences.
Dr. Cantley is currently exploring the role of the PI3K pathway in cancer and diabetes. In 2011, he was awarded a $15 million grant from Stand Up 2 Cancer to lead a team of researchers to bring new cancer treatments to patients faster by investigating the role of PI3K in the development of breast, ovarian and endometrial cancers.
Dr. Cantley graduated summa cum laude in 1971 with a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from West Virginia Wesleyan College and obtained a Ph.D. in biophysical chemistry from Cornell University in 1975. He conducted postdoctoral research at Harvard University from 1975 until 1978, when he was appointed assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Harvard University's Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Cantley was appointed as professor of physiology at Tufts University in 1985, but returned to Harvard Medical School as professor of cell biology in 1992, a position he held until 2003.
Weill Cornell Medical College
Weill Cornell Medical College, Cornell University's medical school located in New York City, is committed to excellence in research, teaching, patient care and the advancement of the art and science of medicine, locally, nationally and globally. Physicians and scientists of Weill Cornell Medical College are engaged in cutting-edge research from bench to bedside, aimed at unlocking mysteries of the human body in health and sickness and toward developing new treatments and prevention strategies. In its commitment to global health and education, Weill Cornell has a strong presence in places such as Qatar, Tanzania, Haiti, Brazil, Austria and Turkey. Through the historic Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar, the Medical College is the first in the U.S. to offer its M.D. degree overseas. Weill Cornell is the birthplace of many medical advances -- including the development of the Pap test for cervical cancer, the synthesis of penicillin, the first successful embryo-biopsy pregnancy and birth in the U.S., the first clinical trial of gene therapy for Parkinson's disease, and most recently, the world's first successful use of deep brain stimulation to treat a minimally conscious brain-injured patient. Weill Cornell Medical College is affiliated with NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, where its faculty provides comprehensive patient care at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. The Medical College is also affiliated with the Methodist Hospital in Houston. For more information, visit weill.cornell.edu.