Cervical cancer, which is caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), is diagnosed in more than 500,000 women per year. And each year, more than a quarter million die from the malignancy. After years of research, a medical milestone has now been reached in efforts to fight this disease—in the form of a safe and effective “dream vaccine” that guards against HPV.
The researchers responsible for this breakthrough are among the winners of this year’s Lasker Awards. On Friday, September 15, Foundation for Biomedical Research President Matthew R. Bailey was proud to join the chorus of researchers, clinicians, and healthcare practitioners, along with the broader scientific and medical communities, in congratulating them—in addition to all honorees who were recognized at the ceremony in New York City. Each recipient has made tremendous contributions to the improved diagnosis and treatment of human disease, achievements deserving of recognition with the Lasker Award (“America’s Nobel”).
For more than seven decades, the Lasker Foundation has led efforts to reward scientific excellence, advocate for national investment in curing disease, and promote the lifesaving work conducted in America’s research labs. It was Mary Woodard Lasker who famously quipped, “If you think research is expensive, try disease!” and whose lifelong dedication to advancing cancer research helped to usher in an era of broad public and governmental support for the medical sciences.
A long and proud history is shared between the Lasker Foundation and FBR. The late cardiac surgeon, inventor, and legendary medical statesman Michael E. DeBakey served in leadership positions at both organizations, leaving behind a legacy enshrined in the award that bears his name. And Lasker Foundation President Claire Pomeroy currently chairs FBR’s Board of Governors.
In the spirit of celebrating excellence in the field of biomedical science and the contributions of research with animal models, FBR recognizes the work of Douglas R. Lowy, MD and John T. Schiller, PhD. This year’s recipients of the 2017 Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award are honored for “technological advances that enabled development of HPV vaccines for prevention of cervical cancer and other tumors caused by human papillomaviruses.” Their studies, which included research with bovine, rabbit, and dog papillomaviruses, led to a vaccine that can save the lives of millions of women around the world.
In addition to the tremendous public health need that intensified the search for an effective HPV vaccine, the researchers were burdened by previous failures of intensive vaccine programs that targeted other sexually-transmitted diseases, which led to tepid support by manufacturers, who were already discouraged by the cost and duration of clinical trials. A dramatization of their groundbreaking work might be called, “HPV: The Vaccine that Nearly Wasn’t.”
The team’s success relied on research they conducted with the bovine papillomavirus, which is oncogenic (cancer-causing) in a manner resembling its human counterpart. With other researchers, they established that antibodies against L1 virus-like proteins of rabbit, cow, and dog papillomaviruses “avert disease in whole animals,” an important step in measuring and testing the vaccine’s effectiveness.
FBR applauds the contributions of Drs. Lowy and Schiller, along with those of each Lasker Award recipient, which have made tremendous inroads toward the treatment and eradication of deadly diseases that affect people around the world. Our shared commitment to promoting medical research—and championing the work of scientists who are deserving of recognition commensurate with the value of their discoveries in the lab—will continue to pay rich dividends in the betterment of public health.
Pictured at top (left to right): Lasker Award winners Dr. Hall of Universität Basel, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards, and Drs. Lowy & Schiller of National Cancer Institute