The Szent-Györgyi Prize for Progress in Cancer Research was established in honor of NFCR’s co-founder, Albert Szent-Györgyi, M.D., Ph.D., who received the 1937 Nobel Prize for his study of vitamin C and cell respiration. The prize is a symbol of NFCR’s enduring commitment to uphold Dr. Szent-Györgyi’s vision of curing cancer through innovation and collaboration.
The annual prize honors scientists who have made an original discovery or breakthrough in scientific understanding that has had a lasting impact on the cancer field and a direct impact of saving people’s lives. In addition to winning the coveted award itself, prize recipients are given a $25,000 honorarium and attend a gala in their honor. The award serves to highlight the essential role basic research plays in understanding cancer.
2017 Award Recipient
Michael N. Hall, Ph.D.
Professor of Biochemistry, Biozentrum of the University of Basel, Switzerland
Cell growth research pioneer Michael N. Hall received the 2017 Szent-Györgyi Prize for Progress in Cancer Research.
In 1991, Hall discovered one of the most important cancer cell targets in the modern era of oncology, which he named “Target of Rapamycin” or TOR. He discovered that TOR – a conserved protein kinase – controls cell growth and a wide range of metabolic processes that when dysregulated cause disorders such as cancers, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity. TOR inhibitors are used today in treatments for kidney, breast, brain and pancreatic cancers, and numerous clinical trials are currently underway testing TOR inhibitors in the treatments of many types of cancer.
Panel Discussion with Dr. Michael Hall
Mary-Claire King, Ph.D.
Professor of Medicine and Genome Sciences,
University of Washington, Seattle
Webster K. Cavenee, Ph.D.
Director of Strategic Alliances in Central Nervous System Cancers, Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, San Diego
Distinguished Professor, University of California, San Diego
Chi Van Dang, M.D., Ph.D.
John H. Glick Professor of Medicine and Director, Abramson Cancer Center, University of Pennsylvania
William G. Nelson, M.D., Ph.D.
Professor of Oncology and Director of the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins
2016 Prize: Mary-Claire King, Ph.D.
Professor of Medicine (Medical Genetics) and Genome Sciences at University of Washington
The Szent-Györgyi Prize selection committee was unanimous in its decision to recognize Dr. King, whose work has proved foundational to the genetic understanding of cancer. In particular, her proof of existence of BRCA1 and the identification of its location made genetic screening for breast and ovarian cancers possible.
Dr. King’s discovery has led to the genotype-based breast cancer screening practice that can identify individuals who have inherited mutations in BRCA1 and give them a chance to take preventive measures at an early stage of their lives.
Dr. King’s discoveries represent a fundamental step in the understanding of cancer and have changed the face of cancer prevention, screening, diagnosis and treatment.
2015 Prize: Frederick Alt, Ph.D.
Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School, Director of the Program in Cellular and Molecular Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator
- The Szent-Györgyi Prize selection committee was unanimous in its decision to recognize Dr. Alt, whose work has proved foundational to the modern understanding of cancer – not only how the lethal disease forms, but also how it can become resistant to treatment. In particular, his seminal discoveries of gene amplification and his pioneering work on molecular mechanisms of DNA damage repair have helped to usher in the era of genetically-targeted therapy and personalized medicine.
- Dr. Alt’s discovery of gene amplification in chemotherapy-resistant cancer cells—which revealed that cells can produce multiple copies of a gene—was revolutionary, coming at a time when the human genome was widely believed to be stable and inflexible. This radical new concept suggested that cancer cells could change their genes, a process that would both allow them to develop more potent cancer-causing genes as well as evolve resistance to treatment.
- Equally important is Dr. Alt’s work on the critical DNA repair mechanism called “non-homologous end joining” (NHEJ). Dr. Alt not only made the initial experimental findings that led to the discovery of this pathway, but also carried out an ingenious series of experiments over many years in his lab in Boston, taking it apart piece by piece to understand how it works. This work linked NHEJ to protecting against a specific kind of DNA damage called “translocations,” which is a major component of many cancers, especially leukemia and lymphoma.
2014 Prize: James Allison, Ph.D.
Chairman, Department of Immunology at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies
- The Szent-Györgyi Prize Selection Committee recognizes Dr. Allison momentous achievement in the fight against cancer and his extraordinary leadership in the modern era of oncology.
- Dr. Allison, along with Dr. Jeff Bluestone, was the first to show that a protein receptor on T cells, the enforcers of the immune system, acts as a checkpoint to shut down immune response. Allison developed an antibody that unleashes the immune system to attack cancer by blocking the immune checkpoint molecule CTLA-4 and conducted extensive preclinical work showing that blockade of CTLA-4 could lead to rejection of many types of tumors. This research led to the development of the first drug to significantly extend survival for patients with late-stage melanoma.
- From 2004 to 2012, Dr, Allison served as Chairman of the Immunology program and other distinguished positions at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. Prior to 2004, Dr. Allison was faculty at the University of California, Berkley; Stanford University; and the UT MD Anderson Cancer Center. He earned his Ph.D. in biological sciences from the University of Texas at Austin.
- Dr. Allison has won numerous honors for biomedical research including the inaugural AACR-CRI Lloyd J. Old Award in Cancer Immunology, The Economist’s 2013 Innovations Award for Bioscience, and a 2014 Breakthrough prize in Life Sciences. He co-leads a Stand Up to Cancer Dream Team research project in immunotherapy.
2013 Prize: Alex Matter, M.D.
CEO, Experimental Therapeutics Centre of Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) in Singapore, Member of the Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences
- The Szent-Györgyi Prize Selection Committee recognizes Alex Matter, M.D., for his contributions to the development of the first drug specifically targeting a molecular lesion in cancer.
- Dr. Matter received his medical degrees from the Universities of Basel and Geneva, and completed his doctoral thesis at the Institute of Pathology at the University of Basel. He held fellowships at the Swiss National Science Foundation and the Swiss Academy for Medical Sciences. Alex Matter, M.D. is currently CEO of the Experimental Therapeutics Centre, A*STAR, Singapore, having spent five and a half years as Director of the Novartis Institute for Tropical Diseases (NITD), from October 2003 to February 2009. Prior to this role, Dr. Matter was Global Head of Oncology Research for Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation, Head of Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research in Basel and Global Head of Translational Research.
- Dr. Alex Matter previously held teaching positions at the University of Basel and the European University Confederation of Rhine. He has published more than 100 scientific articles, several book chapters in the area of oncology and hematology, and is emeritus Professor of the Medical Faculty of the University Basel and an Honorary Adjunct Professor of the Department of Pharmacology, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore.
- Dr. Matter is a member of the American Association for Cancer Research, the National Medical Research Council in Singapore, and the Board of Curiox, a Singapore-based start-up company, and is also an elected member of the Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences. Dr. Matter is the recipient of the 13th Warren-Alpert Prize and the AACR-Bruce F. Cain Memorial Award.
2012 Prize Co-Recipient: Zhen-Yi Wang, M.D.
Professor at the School of Medicine of Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Honorary Director of the Shanghai Institute of Hematology, Member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering and the French Academy of Sciences
- The Szent-Györgyi Prize Selection Committee recognizes Zhen-Yi Wang, M.D., for his innovative research, in collaboration with Zhu Chen, Ph.D., that led to the successful development of a new therapeutic approach to acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL).
- Dr. Zhen-yi Wang was born in Shanghai China in November 1924 and graduated from Aurora University School of Medicine (Shanghai China) and he got MD degree. Dr. Wang was President of Shanghai Second Medical University [now Shanghai Jiao-tong University (SJTU), Medical School), 1984-1988], director of Shanghai Institute of Hematology (SIH, 1987-1996). He is now Professor Emeritus of SJTU School of Medicine, honorary Director of SIH, member of Chinese Academy of Engineering (from 1994), Foreign Correspondent member of French Academy of Sciences (From 1992).
- He is a one of the pioneers in thrombosis and haemostasis research in China. His successful research in the treatment of acute promyelocytic leukemia with all-trans retinoic acid provides a paradigm in differentiation therapy in cancer, for which he obtained at home, award of National Natural Science grade III(1993), National Top Award for Science and Technology(2011), Prize of Science from He-Ling-He-Li foundation (HK 1995), outstanding scientist prize from Qiu-Shi foundation (HK, 1996). Abroad, he was awarded Kettering Prize for cancer research from GM foundation USA(1994), Brupbacher Cancer Research Prize from Switzerland(1997), Prix Mondial Cino Del Duca from France(1998), Ham-Wasserman Lecture Prize from American Society of Hematology(2003), he was honored Honorary Doctor of Sciences from Colombia University USA(2001). His first paper published in 1998 in Blood has been cited 1632 times up to 2009, and was considered one of the 86 landmark papers in 20th century Hematology ( Lichtman MA et al).
- He has published more than 320 papers, 5 books, trained 34 students for Master and 21 for doctor degree of sciences.
2012 Prize Co-Recipient: Zhu Chen, M.D., Ph.D.
Chairperson, Chinese Medical Association, Vice-Chairman, 12th Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, Chairman, 15th Chinese Peasants and Workers Democratic Party, Central Committee, Former Minister of Health of the People’s Republic of China, Professor at the School of Medicine of Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the United States National Academy of Sciences, the United States Institute of Medicine, the French Academy of Sciences, the Third World Academy of Sciences, and the European Academy of Arts, Sciences and Humanities
- The Szent-Györgyi Prize Selection Committee recognizes Chen Zhu, Ph.D., for his innovative research, in collaboration with Zhen-Yi Wang, Ph.D., that led to the successful development of a new therapeutic approach to acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL).
- Prof. Zhu Chen, born in Shanghai on August 17, 1953, got his master ‘s degree at Shanghai Second Medical University (present Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine) in 1981 and doctor’s degree at University Paris VII in 1989, and presently is member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Foreign Associate of the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine of US, Foreign Associate of French Academy of Sciences, Honorary Fellow of the UK Academy of Medical Science, Member the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS), Titular Member of European Academy of Arts, Sciences and Humanities, Foreign Member of Academia Europaea, External Scientific Member of the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Genetics, Director of Chinese Human Genome Center at Shanghai (CHGC), Honorary Director of Shanghai Institute of Hematology and Director of Shanghai Center for Systems Biology at Shanghai Jiao Tong University.
- Prof. Zhu Chen is devoted to translational research on leukemia. He pioneered the concept of synergistic cancer targeting therapy and provided the first successful model in the treatment of acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) with all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA) and arsenic trioxide (As2O3), which has turned this most fatal hematological malignancy to a curable disease, benefiting dozens of thousands of APL patients worldwide. The concept of synergistic targeting cancer therapy based on his translational research shed new lights on the treatment of human malignancies.
- In addition to his achievements in leukemia research, Prof. Chen has been playing a major role in genomic research in China. The Chinese National Human Genome Center at Shanghai (CHGC) under his direct leadership has contributed to human genome sequencing and SNP HaploMap projects, gene discovery, and identification of the gene responsible for several human diseases. Recently, led by Prof. Chen, CHGC has accomplished Schistosoma japonicum genome sequencing and revealed features of host-parasite interplay, which may pave the way for a better control and prevention of this stubborn tropical disease.
- Prof. Chen has published more than 300 papers on high-level internationally peer-reviewed journals, such as NATURE, NATURE GENETICS, SCIENCE, PNAS and BLOOD, with over 15,000 citations. He has achieved many important national and international awards and honors, including Cheung Kong Scholars Achievement Award from the National Ministry of Education, Second Degree Prize of National Natural Science Award from State Council in China, “Prix de l’Qise” by “La Ligue Nationale contre le Cancer” of France, Prix Etranger de l’INSERM of France, and “Officier de l’Ordre National de la Légion d’Honneur” by French government. Most recently, the American Society of Hematology (ASH) honored Dr. Chen with the 2016 Ernest Beutler Lecture and Prize for his significant research advances in the area of APL.
2011 Prize: Beatrice Mintz, Ph.D.
Keynote Speaker: Lewis Cantley, Ph.D., Director, Sandra and Edward Meyer Cancer Center, Weill Cornell Medical College
Professor and Jack Schultz Chair in Basic Science at Fox Chase Cancer Center, Member of the United States National Academy of Sciences, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences
- The Szent-Györgyi Prize Selection Committee recognizes Beatrice Mintz, Ph.D., for her discoveries regarding the relationship between development and cancer, based on construction and analysis of chimeric and transgenic mouse models. Her work has enabled the study of cancer and other genetic diseases to be carried out within the framework of the whole organism.
- Dr. Mintz first analyzed development by producing chimeric individuals in which genetically different cells coexisted throughout life. She found that normal development is based on an expanding clonal organization in which a succession of small numbers of stem cells are competent to divide or to differentiate further. In cancer, the differentiation option is diminished, while the capacity to divide increases. Thus, cancer may be regarded as an aberration of development.
- Dr. Mintz was also the first to discover the importance of the microenvironment in the behavior of stem cells in the organism. Her experiments showed that when stem cells from a teratocarcinoma, a type of tumor derived from a “multipotent” stem cell, were transferred into a normal early embryo, those cells contributed, along with host cells, to development of the wide range of normally functioning tissues. This “normalization” of the tumor stem cells is attributable to the normal microenvironment in which they were placed, and this understanding has influenced many fields of biology.
- The first transgenic model of malignant melanoma was produced in Dr. Mintz’s lab. This genetically engineered model is currently the only one that encompasses different subtypes of primary skin melanomas, which undergo widespread metastasis, thereby mirroring the disease in people.
- Dr. Mintz is a Professor and the Jack Schultz Chair in Basic Science at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, PA. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Iowa and taught at the University of Chicago before joining Fox Chase.
2010 Prize: Peter K. Vogt, Ph.D.
Keynote Speaker: John Lechleiter, Ph.D., Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer, Eli Lilly and Company
Professor, Department of Molecular and Experimental Medicine at The Scripps Research Institute, Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, and the American Academy of Microbiology
- The Szent-Györgyi Prize Selection Committee recognizes Peter K. Vogt, Ph.D., for his groundbreaking discovery of cancer-causing genes, which launched a new era for cancer research.
- Dr. Vogt’s research, which began on a humble chicken virus in the early 1960s, has profoundly changed biology and medicine. His discovery of src, the first cancer-causing gene, or oncogene, made seminal contributions to our present understanding of the role of oncogenes, proto-oncogenes and many other critical molecular mechanisms of cancer. Today, Dr. Vogt continues to be a leader in multiple aspects of cancer research, including initiatives that use some of the most important oncogenes as therapeutic targets-initiatives that are bringing renewed hope to cancer patients.
- Dr. Peter Vogt’s revolutionary research on src has led to the discovery of additional oncogenes, including myc, jun, and PI 3-kinase, that play a key role in human cancer and have become household names in the world of cellular signaling research. His current work on cancer-specific mutations in p110, the catalytic subunit of PI 3-kinase, has demonstrated that these mutations confer oncogenic activity on the protein, making them highly specific cancer targets.
- Pursuing these targets, Dr. Vogt is now generating small molecule inhibitors that can interfere with their role in cancer causation. Dr. Vogt’s iconic career may have begun with oncogene discovery but it has expanded in scope and now includes translational studies aimed at developing novel therapeutic approaches for cancer patients.
- Currently, Dr. Vogt is a Professor in the Department of Molecular and Experimental Medicine at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California.
- He received his Ph.D. from the University of Tübingen, Germany, and trained as a virologist at the Max Planck Institute of Virology in Germany and at the University of California in Berkeley. “Dr. Vogt’s discovery of src, the first cancer causing gene, or oncogene, made seminal contributions to our present understanding of the role of oncogenes, proto-oncogenes and many other critical molecular mechanisms of cancer.”
2009 Prize: Ronald A. DePinho, M.D.
Keynote Speaker: Honorable Billy Tauzin, former president of PhARMA
President of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Member of the National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine of the National Academies
- The Szent-Györgyi Prize Selection Committee recognizes Ronald A. DePinho, M.D., for his groundbreaking discoveries in cancer biology and for his association of aging with genetic disorders.
- Dr. DePinho’s research on the life history of cancer cells includes the recognition of the mechanism of tumor suppression by the p53 gene through apoptosis activation in abnormal cell cycling. He has also shown that that INK4a/ARF is a true tumor suppressor and the genetic and biochemical linkage of ARF to the p53 pathway.
- His use of inducible cancer models was notably demonstrated in Dr. DePinho’s studies of host-tumor interactions where he established the concept of “tumor maintenance” – which laid the foundation for use of the inducible model in the field and by industry for preclinical drug development. His extensive series of experiments on telomere biology reveals how telomere dysfunction may drive or suppress cancer’s development depending on the life cycle status of the tumor suppressor gene p53.
- In addition to these advancements, Dr. DePinho continues to illuminate many life scientists on the link between aging and cancer – a lasting mystery for the cancer field. He has convincingly established that telomere dysfunction, combined with an impaired DNA damage response, and the removal of epithelium by aging or disease processes, converge to form the common carcinomas. Several of these discoveries have paved the way for the development of agents and therapeutics in clinical trials – including an anti-cancer telomerase inhibitor.
- Dr. DePinho received his M.D. with distinction from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, New York.
2008 Prize: Carlo M. Croce, M.D.
Keynote Speaker: Martin Birkhofer, M.D., Vice President, Oncology Global Medical Affairs, Bristol-Myers Squibb Research and Development
Director of the Human Cancer Genetics Program, Director of the Institute of Genetics at The Ohio State University, Member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies
- The recipient of the 2008 Albert Szent-Györgyi Prize for Progress in Cancer Research is Carlo M. Croce, M.D. The National Foundation for Cancer Research recognizes his groundbreaking discoveries that have revolutionized the field of cancer genetics and oncology over the past thirty years.
- Dr. Croce’s research established the direct and causative association of chromosomal translocations with the molecular mechanisms of oncogene activation. He was the first to use specific chromosomal translocations as genetic hallmarks to identify and isolate important oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes such as BCL2, ALL1, and LZTS1, each of which revealed novel and critical signaling pathways for cancer initiation and progression. His research paved the way for entirely new avenues in the development of a variety of therapies to target cancer.
- Most recently, Dr. Croce made a breakthrough discovery through his microRNA research. He provided the first evidence that these small, non-protein-coding RNAs do play a role in human cancer. Moreover, he developed a gene chip that enables the assessment of the genome-wide expression of microRNAs in normal cells and tumor tissue, and identified microRNA signatures that correlate with diagnosis and prognosis of leukemia, lung cancer, and many other types of tumors.
- The most exciting aspect of his revolutionary research on microRNAs is that it reveals the tremendous potential for developing microRNA-based therapies. His discoveries mark one of the cornerstones in the field of human genetics, and will have a profound impact on furthering the development of molecular medicines for cancer patients.
- Today, Dr. Croce is the Director of the Human Cancer Genetics Program and Director of the Institute of Genetics at The Ohio State University. He is also a Professor of Molecular Virology, Immunology and Medical Genetics at OSU. Dr. Croce has received numerous awards including the General Motors Cancer Research Foundation Charles S. Mott Prize, the Italian Gold Medal for Public Health presented by President Ciampi, and the G.H.A. Clowes Memorial Award of the American Association for Cancer Research. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, USA. He was Editor-in-Chief of Cancer Research and continues to be the Subject Editor for the British Journal of Cancer. Dr. Croce received his M.D. from the University of Rome in Rome, Italy.
2007 Prize: Webster K. Cavenee, Ph.D.
Keynote Speaker: David Allan, President and Chief Executive Officer, YM Biosciences
Director of Strategic Alliances in Central Nervous System Cancers, Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, San Diego, Distinguished Professor, University of California, San Diego, Member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies
- The Albert Szent-Györgyi Prize Committee selected Dr. Cavenee for his seminal discoveries in the genetic mechanisms of human cancer. Specifically, his research provided the first evidence for the existence of tumor suppressor genes, one of the most influential breakthroughs in cancer research.
- Dr. Cavenee’s original research began in on defining the genetic lesions in retinoblastoma. As a result, his efforts led to the first hard experimental evidence for the existence of tumor suppressor genes. His revolutionary research on tumor suppressor genes also confirmed the “two-hit hypothesis,” fundamentally changing the conceptual framework on cancer initiation and progression. Today, mutations of tumor suppressor genes have been identified in more than half of all tumors, including those of muscle, melanocytes, kidney, prostate, and breast. Novel gene therapies to reverse gene mutations or their effects in cancer cells hold promise as cancer treatment strategies which could be beneficial to cancer patients.
- Today, Dr. Cavenee, is the Director of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research based at the University of California, San Diego and a Professor of Medicine in the cancer biology program at UCSD. He is a Fellow of the National Foundation for Cancer Research and has won many awards, including the Charles S. Mott Prize of the General Motors Cancer Research Foundation. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, Past-President of the American Association for Cancer Research, a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology, and serves on the editorial boards of several leading scientific journals. He has also served on the Board of Scientific Counselors of the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Cavenee received his Ph.D. from the University of Kansas Medical School.
2006 Prize: Harold F. Dvorak, M.D.
Keynote Speaker: Daniel Von Hoff, M.D., FACS., TGen, Director, Professor of Medicine
Mallinckrodt Professor Emeritus of Pathology at Harvard Medical School, Chief of the Department of Pathology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
- The Albert Szent-Györgyi Prize Committee selected Dr. Dvorak for his breakthrough discovery of the vascular permeability factor/vascular endothelial cell growth factor (VPF/VEGF). His contribution has led to a series of discoveries which both elucidated the mechanisms of angiogenesis as well as the development of antibodies and small molecule therapeutics to inhibit VEGF.
- Today, anti-angiogenesis drugs have received FDA approval in the U.S. and 27 other countries for cancer treatments and other diseases. Largely because of Dr. Dvorak’s research, the possibility of anti-angiogenic therapy is now on a firm scientific foundation, not only in the treatment of cancer, but of many non-neoplastic diseases as well.
- Dr. Dvorak is the author of over 200 original peer-reviewed papers. In addition to his distinguished accomplishments in research, Dr. Dvorak is an NFCR Fellow and past President of the American Society for Investigative Pathology. Educated at Princeton and Harvard Medical School, Dr. Dvorak finished his residency in pathology at Massachusetts General Hospital and performed his postdoctoral research at the National Institutes of Health. He has served on the Harvard Medical School faculty since 1967 and for 16 years, chaired the Department of Pathology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.