The study find that the five scientists have won prestigious medical awards for creating an innovative breast cancer treatment and discovering key players of the disease-fighting immune system. They will share two $250,000 awards from the Lasker Foundation’ to be present later this month in New York; the foundation announced Tuesday. One prize honors the invention of Herceptin, a breast cancer treatment. The award  share by H. Michael Shepard and Axel Ullrich, who were with the biotech company Genentech when they did the research; and Dennis Slamon of the University of California, Los Angeles.

Breast cancer treatment

Herceptin transformed care for breast cancer when it is approve in 1998. It interferes with a protein called HER2 on the surface of breast cancer cells. The honorees’ work, which began in the 1980s, included identifying HER2 as a driver of breast cancer and showing that Herceptin could help treat some cases of the disease. The three scientists “conceived and executed a new blueprint for drug discovery that has already bestowed tens of thousands of women with time and quality of life;” the foundation said.

In the fields of medicine, biotechnology and pharmacology; drug discovery is the process by which drugs are discovered and/or designed. In the past most drugs have been discovered either by identifying the active ingredient from traditional remedies or by serendipitous discovery. A new approach has been to understand how disease and infection are controlled at the molecular and physiological level and to target specific entities based on this knowledge.

Institute of Medical Research

The process of drug discovery involves the identification of candidates, synthesis’; characterization, screening, and assays for therapeutic efficacy. Once a compound has shown its value in these tests; it will begin the process of drug development prior to clinical trials. Despite advances in technology and understanding of biological systems, drug discovery is still a lengthy, “expensive, difficult, and inefficient process” with low rate of new therapeutic discovery.

Shepard is now at Biooncology Consultants LLC in San Diego, and Ullrich at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry in Martinsried, Germany. The other award goes to Max Cooper of Emory University in Atlanta and Jacques Miller; an emeritus professor at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Australia. In work that began around 1960; they independently discovered two key classes of immune system cells, B and T cells.

Their work set the stage for fundamental discoveries over the past 50 years, the foundation said. It also led to treatments for a wide range of illnesses, including cancer and autoimmune disorders. Therefore The foundation’s public service award goes the global vaccine alliance, Gavi, an international public-private partnership that works to expand global vaccine coverage for children. Since it was launch in 2000, the group has helped vaccinate more than 760 million children, the foundation said.