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Axel Ullrich named winner of 2009 Dr Paul Janssen Award for Biomedical Research

Axel Ullrich, PhD, 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), has been announced as the winner of the 2009 Dr Paul Janssen Award for Biomedical Research.

The Dr Paul Janssen Award salutes the most passionate and creative scientists in basic or clinical research whose scientific achievements have made, or have strong potential to make, a measurable impact on human health. An independent committee of scientists selected Dr Ullrich, who will receive a $100,000 prize during a ceremony in Beerse, Belgium on 8 September, 2009.

‘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, MD, 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.’

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 per cent 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 signalling system involved in regulating tumour angiogenesis, the growth of blood vessels in tumours. He discovered that inhibiting a key player in the signalling system (vascular endothelial growth factor receptor, or VEGFR) suppresses the generation of blood vessels in tumours and slows down cancer cell growth.

‘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.’

The Award is named for Dr Paul Janssen, who founded Janssen Pharmaceutica, N.V. in 1953. Known to his colleagues as ‘Dr Paul’, Janssen helped save millions of lives through his contribution to the discovery and development of more than 80 medicines, of which four are on the World Health Organization's list of essential medicines. Nominations for the 2010 Dr. Paul Janssen Award will open in September and submission details will be announced at that time.

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