Tuesday, February 25

UCLA professor receives award for developing drug used in breast cancer treatment

Dennis Slamon, a UCLA physician-resident, was awarded the 2019 Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award for his work on a groundbreaking breast cancer treatment.(Courtesy of Milo Mitchell/UCLA)

A UCLA physician-scientist received an award for his work on a groundbreaking breast cancer drug.

Dennis Slamon, who is a professor and chief of hematology-oncology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, was awarded the 2019 Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award, according to a Sept. 9 university press release. Slamon received the award for the development of Herceptin, a drug employed in treatment for women with HER2-positive or HER2+ breast cancer.

Slamon will share the $250,000 award with cancer researchers H. Michael Shepard and Axel Ullrich. Both Shepard and Ullrich worked with Genentech, a biotechnology company involved in the development of Herceptin.

HER2-positive breast cancer is one that tests positive for a protein that catalyzes the growth of cancer cells. This protein is known as human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 or HER2.

Slamon and his co-researchers postulated that if they could identify what was broken in a cancer cell by comparing it to a normal cell, they could target the defect in a manner which wouldn’t harm healthy tissue, a theory that spurred the development of Herceptin.

The work of the awardees, which began in the 1980s, identified the HER2 protein as a driver and proved a link between the HER2+ gene mutation and aggressive types of breast cancer.

In the early 1990s, women with HER2+ cancer had a postdiagnosis life expectancy of three to five years. Nowadays, depending on stage when cancer is diagnosed, women with HER2+ breast cancer have a postdiagnosis life expectancy of seven to 10 years. Globally, an estimated 2.7 to 3 million women have been treated with Herceptin.

Slamon’s accomplishment marks the second consecutive year a UCLA scientist won the Lasker Award. Michael Grunstein, a biological chemistry professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine, won the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award in 2018 for his work on gene expression.

Comments are supposed to create a forum for thoughtful, respectful community discussion. Please be nice. View our full comments policy here.