Research by Drs. Druker and Lydon, both of whom also are investigators at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, led to the development of imatinib (Gleevec). Dr. Sawyers was out front in efforts toward attacking the resistance to Gleevec that arises in some patients. The result: Chronic myeloid leukemia was converted from a fatal cancer to a manageable condition. Gleevec has dramatically redirected approaches to cancer drug discovery and therapy by its mode of action, which targets a specific tyrosine kinase instead of nonspecifically inhibiting cells, which can provoke toxic side effects as standard chemotherapeutic agents do.
The success of Drs. Druker, Lydon, and Sawyers has provided a model that extends well beyond CML. Indeed, many potential drugs for cancer that attack specific troublesome molecules are now in development and dozens have been approved. In addition to radically improving the prognosis for CML, Drs. Druker, Lydon, and Sawyers have provided a new paradigm for cancer therapy.
“Their award is an outstanding example of contributions that have improved the clinical treatment and of collaboration between the public and private sectors,” said Dr. Freire of the Lasker Foundation. “Patients with CML have new hope for the future because of the Laureates’ enormous dedication and inspired clinical research.”
“Gleevec is the most prominent of the first successful agents developed based upon a specific known molecular disease abnormality,” noted Peter C. Johnson, M.D., president and CEO, Scintellix, and executive vice president and CBO of Entegrion.
The drug itself is part of a new strategy that will help change the nature of cancer treatment in the future, according to Dr. Johnson. “New systems biology tools are giving us the opportunity to target specific molecular interactions that are responsible for the onset and for the proliferation of cancers,” he pointed out. “Our enhanced understanding of metabolic pathways in cancer will enable us to sharply target cancer-specific abnormalities in rational ways.”
Dr. Johnson predicts that cancer therapy in the future will fall under the umbrella of personalized medicine to the extent that the molecular behavior patterns of specific types of cancers will be known and addressable. “Then, host factors (age, health status) will dictate how these highly specific therapeutics can be administered (locally or systemically, in what doses, and in what combination with other adjunct therapies) to achieve success in the individual setting,” he explained.
The Lasker Foundation also presented its annual Mary Woodard Lasker Public Service Award. The 2009 Award will go to New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg for policy and philanthropic initiatives to reduce tobacco use and promote public health.