2014 Canada Gairdner Awards Honour Top Medical Discoveries

March 26, 2014

TORONTO, March 26, 2014 /CNW/ – The Gairdner Foundation is pleased to
announce the winners of the 2014 Canada Gairdner Awards, recognizing
some of the most significant medical discoveries from around the world.
This year’s winners showcase a broad range of new medical discoveries
related to cardiovascular disease, cancer, immunotherapy and human
parasitic diseases.

Among the world’s most esteemed medical research prizes, the awards
distinguish Canada as a leader in science and provide a $100,000 CDN
prize to each scientist for their work. The Canada Gairdner Awards
promote a stronger culture of research and innovation across the
country, inspiring a new generation of researchers.

The selections for the Canada Gairdner International Awards, recognizing individuals from various fields for seminal discoveries or
contributions to medical science, are:

        --  James P. Allison, Ph.D.,Professor and Chair, Department of
            Immunology, The University of Texas, MD Anderson Cancer Center,

            Awarded for his discovery of immune checkpoint blockade and its
            successful application to immune therapy of cancer.

            The work: Allison's research has focused on T cell biology. T
            cells are white blood cells that scan our bodies for cellular
            abnormalities and infections. Allison's work discovered the
            receptor these cells use to recognize and bind to antigens for
            attack. Immunologists have long wondered why the immune system
            doesn't fight off cancer cells itself and Allison discovered
            the first 'blocker' that blocks the immune system from doing
            so. This discovery was the immune checkpoint molecule called
            CTLA-4, which turns off T cells before they can respond to
            tumors they've been set to destroy. Allison developed an
            antibody to block CTLA-4, freeing T cells to attack tumors, and
            leading to the development of the drug ipilimumab. The U.S.
            Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved ipilimumab
            (Yervoy®) for treatment of metastatic melanoma in 2011.

            The impact: Allison's concept has opened a new field of cancer
            therapy, immune checkpoint blockade, and many cancer patients
            are alive today because of his vision. Immune checkpoint
            blockade treats the immune system instead of the tumor which
            provides the option to work across other cancers. In addition
            to melanoma, ipilimumab has been effective in clinical trials
            against prostate, kidney, lung and ovarian cancers.
        --  Titia de Lange, Ph.D.,Leon Hess Professor; American Cancer
            Society Professor; Head, Laboratory of Cell Biology and
            Genetics; Director, Anderson Center for Cancer Research;
            Rockefeller University, New York

            Awarded for her discovery of the mechanisms by which mammalian
            telomeres are protected from deleterious DNA repair and damage

            The work: The problem de Lange has focused on for the past two
            decades is a basic problem in cell biology. Chromosomes are
            made of protein and a single molecule of deoxyribonucleic acid
            (DNA) and have two ends. Our body has a vigilant surveillance
            system which is always looking for damage to our DNA, including
            breaks which can lead to various diseases, such as cancer. The
            ends of chromosomes are called telomeres and Dr. de Lange
            discovered that they are bound by a complex of proteins she
            named shelterin.De Lange's work addressed the mechanism by
            which telomeres protect chromosome ends, an issue she refers to
            as the "telomere end-protection problem." De Lange revealed
            that telomeres need to repress six distinct DNA damage response
            (DDR) pathways that threaten genome integrity. She identified
            the shelterin protein complex that protects telomeres and
            established how distinct shelterin subunits repress different
            DDR pathways.

            The impact: Her work has solved a long-standing riddle in
            biology, one that has profound implications for our
            understanding of effective cell proliferation, chromosome
            integrity and a diverse array of human disorders including
            cancer and aging. The work on the telomere end-protection
            problem and the types of genome instability that result from
            lack of telomere function has informed scientists about the
            events involved in early tumorigenesis when telomeres shorten
            due to the lack of telomerase. De Lange's findings argue that
            the genome instability in human cancer is in part due to loss
            of telomere function. Furthermore, understanding how telomeres
            solve the end-protection problem is directly relevant to the
            telomeropathies, which are diseases caused by compromised
            telomere function.
        --  Professor Sir Marc Feldmann, FRS, FAA,Head, Kennedy Institute
            of Rheumatology; Nuffield Department of Orthopaedics,
            Rheumatology and Musculoskeletal Sciences, University of
            Oxford, Oxford
        --  Sir Ravinder Nath Maini, FRS, FMedSci, FRCP,Visiting Professor
            Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology, University of Oxford, Oxford

            Awarded for the discovery of anti-TNF therapy for the treatment
            of rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory diseases.

            The work: Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a common, chronic,
            painful and disabling autoimmune disease. Prior to the work of
            Drs. Feldmann and Maini, the treatment of RA was not based on
            understanding of which molecules were produced in excess. In
            the mid-1980's, the team began work on unravelling which
            molecules might be the culprit of this disease in hopes of
            determining which targets would be ideal for treatment.
            Experiments in the laboratory on cells from joints of patients
            and in an animal model of RA demonstrated that tumor necrosis
            factor (TNF), a molecule belonging to the 'cytokine' family,
            was a major driver of inflammation and joint damage. They
            discovered a monoclonal antibody-based treatment that blocked
            the action of TNF and was safe and effective for treating in
            RA. Anti-TNF therapy works in most patients rapidly to reduce
            pain, improve mobility, reduce work disability, improve social
            functioning, and, when compared with patients on conventional
            synthetic drug treatments, reduces the risk of heart attacks,
            strokes and increases life expectancy. It has a major role in
            protecting joints from degeneration, thus maintaining good
            physical function and reducing the need for joint surgery.

            The impact:They discovered the first treatment for RA, using
            monoclonal antibodies which are genetically engineered natural
            defense molecules. Not only was this a novel treatment, but it
            was the first demonstration of the efficacy of a biological
            therapy for a chronic autoimmune disease and led to the
            recognition by the pharmaceutical industry that biological
            drugs are a viable class of therapeutic agents that can compete
            with traditional chemical drugs. The effective results have not
            only transformed the treatment for patients, but have led to
            other successful anti-TNF treatments, and encouraged much
            further work using antibodies for treatment.
        --  Harold Fisher Dvorak, M.D.,Mallinckrodt Distinguished Professor
            of Pathology, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center; Harvard
            Medical School, Boston
        --  Napoleone Ferrara, M.D.,Distinguished Professor of Pathology;
            Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Opthalmology; Senior Deputy
            Director for Basic Sciences, UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center,
            La Jolla

            Awarded for discovering Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor
            (VEGF), a key molecular mediator of new blood vessel formation
            and the development of effective anti-VEGF therapy for cancer
            and wet macular degeneration.

            The work: Blood vessels are the part of the circulatory system
            that transports blood throughout the body and also play a vital
            role in virtually every medical condition. In 1983, Dr. Dvorak
            reported a tumour-derived protein that caused the cells lining
            tumor blood vessels to become leaky (hyperpermeable) to
            circulating molecules. He called the protein vascular
            permeability factor (VPF). Subsequently, he demonstrated that
            VPF was also secreted by many normal cells and plays a key role
            in wound healing and chronic inflammatory diseases.  At the
            same time, Dr. Ferrara noted that cells released a factor that
            caused cells to divide. This factor stimulated the production
            of new blood vessels from pre-existing vessels (angiogenesis).
            In 1989, Dr. Ferrara reported for the first time the isolation
            and sequencing of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)
            which, after testing, ended up being the exact same molecule as
            VPF, and VEGF became its new name.

            The impact: Dr. Dvorak's research demonstrated that most
            malignant tumors make VEGF, which assists the tumors to grow
            beyond minimal size by forming new blood vessels and connective
            tissue support as in wound healing. Dr. Ferrara's cloning and
            characterization of VEGF enabled progress in this field. In
            addition, Dr. Ferrara and his team made key advances in
            understanding how VEGF was made, how it acted and its role.
            Importantly, Dr. Ferrara and his colleagues pioneered the
            clinical development of an inhibiting antibody against VEGF
            which opened up a new era of cancer therapy because this new
            approach focused on choking off the blood supply that tumours
            need in order to grow and spread. These findings also
            spearheaded the development of an anti-VEGF antibody fragment
            (ranibizumab) which has shown dramatic efficacy in maintaining
            and improving vision in wet age-related macular degeneration
            (AMD) patients.

The Canada Gairdner Global Health Award, recognizing someone who is responsible for a scientific advancement
that has made a significant impact on health in the developing world,
goes to:

        --  Satoshi Omura, Ph.D.,Distinguished Emeritus Professor; Special
            Coordinator, Department of Drug Discovery Sciences, Kitasato
            University, Tokyo

            Awarded for the discovery of the microorganism Streptomyces
            avermitilis and its extraordinary biologic activity that in
            partnership with Merck led to the identification of avermectin
            and development of ivermectin, a highly successful treatment
            for many parasitic diseases, and the global consortium directed
            at eliminating river blindness.

            The work: In 1973, the Kitasato Institute in Japan, led by
            Professor Satoshi Omura, formed a collaborative research
            partnership with Merck to discover new animal health products.
            Within this partnership, Professor Omura and his research team
            based at the Kitasato Institute in Tokyo isolated and screened
            microorganisms and sent the promising ones to the Merck
            laboratories in the United States. Of particular interest was a
            microorganism, Streptomyces avermitilis, isolated from soil
            near an oceanside golf course in Japan which had potent
            bioactivity. Researchers at Merck's lab conducted further
            testing on the microorganism and then the compound responsible
            for the activity was named avermectin. Scientists at Merck
            refined avermectin under the name ivermectin, which was the
            safest and most potent derivative. Despite decades of searching
            around the world, the Japanese microorganism remains the only
            source of avermectin ever found.

            The impact: Ivermectin, commercialized in 1981 as a highly
            successful veterinary drug active against both internal and
            external parasites, was later found to be safe and effective
            for treating several human parasitic diseases such as
            Onchocerciasis (river blindness) and Lymphatic filariasis
            (elephantiasis). Merck joined forces with the World Health
            Organization (WHO), the Special Programme for Research and
            Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR) and the Onchocerciasis
            Control Programme in West Africa (OCP) to test the drug in
            humans. Ivermectin was registered for human use by French
            regulators in 1987. With the Kitasato Institute agreeing to
            forego royalties, Dr. Roy Vagelos, the then Chief Executive of
            Merck, announced that ivermectin would be provided free of
            charge for the treatment of river blindness for "as long as it
            is needed," a pledge that is still being honoured. Utilizing a
            truly international partnership involving the public and
            private sectors, governments of disease-endemic countries and
            affected communities, mass drug administration commenced in
            1988 and the donation has allowed the goal of eliminating both
            diseases to become achievable in the near future. Ivermectin
            has also become the drug of choice to treat strongyloidiasis,
            scabies and head lice and research is being conducted into its
            effectiveness against other neglected tropical diseases.

The Canada Gairdner Wightman Award, given to a Canadian who has demonstrated outstanding leadership in
medicine and medical science throughout his/her career, is awarded to:

        --  Salim Yusuf, MBBS, DPHIL, FRCP(UK), FRCPC, FACC, FRSC,
            OC,Professor of Medicine, McMaster University; Director,
            Population Health Research Institute, VP of Research, Hamilton
            Health Sciences, Hamilton General Hospital, David Braley
            Research Institute, Hamilton

            Awarded for his exceptional leadership in global clinical
            trials and population studies of cardiovascular disease that
            shaped best guidelines for prevention and treatment.

            The work: Dr. Yusuf's epidemiological work in over 60 countries
            in all the inhabited continents of the world shows the majority
            of risks of both cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease are
            attributable to the same few risk factors. He currently leads
            the largest ever study revealing the role of societal changes
            in cardiovascular disease (CVD) among 155,000 people from 700
            communities in 22 high, middle and low income countries. Dr.
            Yusuf led the HOPE Trial that demonstrated that Ramipril (an
            ACE inhibitor) saved lives, prevented heart attacks and strokes
            among patients with stable heart disease.

            The impact:Dr. Yusuf's trials (such as SOLVD, HOPE, OASIS,
            CHARM, ON-TARGET, TRANSCEND, etc.) on the prevention and
            treatment of CVD and related conditions (such as hypertension
            and diabetes) have improved the care of patients. His research
            and insights have produced substantial changes in guidelines
            for the prevention and treatment of disease.  His large trials
            have led to more effective treatments for acute heart attacks,
            congestive heart failure, heart rhythm abnormalities and
            chronic heart disorders.  These studies have led to better
            understanding of the role of societal changes on behaviours and
            risk factors, and how they lead to CVD. Over the last three
            decades he has built capacity for clinical and population
            research across Canada and the world by establishing networks
            at over 1,500 sites in 85 countries.

The Canada Gairdner Awards will be presented at a dinner in Toronto on
October 30(th), 2014 as part of the Gairdner National Program, a two week lecture
series given by Canada Gairdner Award winners at 24 universities
from St John’s to Vancouver. The National Program reaches students
across the country, making the superstars of science accessible and
inspiring the next generation of researchers.

“The Canada Gairdner Awards distinguish Canada as a leader in biomedical
research, raising the profile of science both nationally and on the
world stage,” said Dr. John Dirks, President and Scientific Director,
Gairdner Foundation. “This year’s winners are an exceptional example of
highly effective outcomes from translational research.”

The Gairdner Foundation: Making Science Matter

The Canada Gairdner Awards were created in 1959 to recognize and reward
the achievements of medical researchers whose work contributes
significantly to improving the quality of human life. They are Canada’s
only globally known and respected international science awards, and
Gairdner is the only national organization that consistently brings the
world’s best biomedical researchers to Canada to share their ideas and
work with scientists across the country. In so doing, it enlarges
networks and enhances Canada’s international reputation, while
providing a realistic and unbiased benchmark for Canada’s leading
scientists. All winners are chosen by an adjudication committee and all
choices are deemed final.

SOURCE Gairdner Foundation

Source: PR Newswire

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