OHSU Knight Cancer Institute Director Brian J. Druker, M.D., has been awarded the 2018 Tang Prize in Biopharmaceutical Science for his pioneering role in shaping the fields of precision medicine and targeted cancer drugs. The award recognizes “original biopharmaceutical or biomedical research that has led to significant advances towards preventing, diagnosing and/or treating major human diseases to improve human health.”
Druker shares the award with Tony Hunter Ph.D., Professor of Biology at the Salk Institute, and John Mendelsohn, M.D., President Emeritus at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. The three renowned scholars were selected for their discoveries that led to successful targeted cancer therapies, and will equally share a cash prize of approximately $1.33 million and a grant of up to $333,000.
Druker’s research proved it was possible to shut down cancer cell growth without harming healthy ones – a discovery that helped make once-fatal forms of the disease manageable.
“On behalf of everyone at OHSU, I would like to congratulate Brian on this well-deserved award,” said OHSU President Joe Robertson, M.D., M.B.A. “His discoveries paved the way for an entirely new way of thinking about how to treat cancer. And his commitment to big ideas has allowed him to assemble, at the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute, an extraordinary team of scientists who are making generational contributions to science and drawing us closer to ending cancer as we know it. This recognition is a fitting testament to his remarkable work which has impacted millions of lives and inspired so many to join the fight.”
Druker began his cancer research career in the 1980s, studying why some formerly normal cells shift into overdrive producing tumors. In 1993, the year he joined OHSU, Druker began testing compounds that could target the molecules that drive chronic myeloid leukemia (CML). He identified the compound that ultimately became Gleevec® and then led the drug’s clinical trials. During the trials, nearly all CML patients saw their white blood counts return to normal in a matter of weeks with few side effects; the trials were so successful that they resulted in the fastest approval by the FDA in its history.
Gleevec® has since proven effective against multiple forms of cancer including pediatric CML and gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST). In 2017, the New England Journal of Medicine published long-term results of Gleevec for patients with CML. The study followed 1,106 patients around the world for more than 10 years, and found a survival rate of nearly 90 percent from the leukemia. According to the National Cancer Institute, prior to Gleevec’s FDA approval, fewer than one in three CML patients survived five years past diagnosis.
With his scientific and medical achievements, Druker has steadily built the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute into an international leader in delivering personalized cancer medicine.
“I am honored to receive this distinguished award from the Tang Prize Foundation,” said Druker, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and JELD-WEN Chair of Leukemia Research at OHSU. “This award represents hope for patients and their families, and reminds us that we can create effective and non-toxic therapies. Our team will continue to help advance science so that, one day, what we have seen with Gleevec will be possible for all patients with cancer.”