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Princess of Asturias Awards

05/31/2012

Gregory Winter and Richard A. Lerner, Prince of Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific Research

The researchers Gregory Winter and Richard A. Lerner have been bestowed with the 2012 Prince of Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific Research, as made public today in Oviedo by the Jury responsible for conferring said Award.

Gregory Winter and Richard A. Lerner, Prince of Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific Research ©FPA

The Jury for this Award –convened by the Prince of Asturias Foundation– was chaired by Pedro Miguel Echenique Landiríbar and was composed of Juan Luis Arsuaga Ferreras, Juan Ignacio Cirac Sasturáin, Antonio Fernández-Rañada Menéndez de Luarca, Luis Fernández-Vega Sanz, Cristina Garmendia Mendizábal, Santiago Grisolía García, María del Rosario Heras Celemín, Bernardo Hernández González, Emilio Lora-Tamayo D’ocón, José Antonio Martínez Álvarez, Petra Mateos-Aparicio Morales, Amador Menéndez Velázquez, Ginés Morata Pérez, Enrique Moreno González, César Nombela Cano, Eduardo Punset Casals, Marta Sanz-Solé, Manuel Toharia Cortés y Vicente Gotor Santamaría (acting as secretary).

This candidature was put forward by Sir Paul Nurse, 2001 Nobel Prize for Medicine and president of The Royal Society, an institution that received the 2011 Prince of Asturias Award for Communication and Humanities; Paul Greengard, 2000 Nobel Prize for Medicine; and Peter Lawrence, 2007 Prince of Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific Research.

The researchers Gregory Winter and Richard A. Lerner stand at the forefront of research on the immune system. The advances in the use of antibodies as therapeutic tools have provided new ways of preventing and treating immune disorders, degenerative diseases and different types of tumours. In many cases, the use of antibodies has alleviated the suffering of patients and has halted the progression of the disease. These researchers have managed to create a synthetic immune system in the test tube, as well as demonstrating its preventive and therapeutic potential due to exceeding the natural antibody repertoire the human body can generate.

Sir Gregory Winter (UK, 1951) studied Natural Sciences at Trinity College, Cambridge and undertook his PhD studies at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) at the Medical Research Council (MRC), an institution of which he has been deputy director. He was appointed Master of Trinity College in 2011 and is due to take office in July 2012.

Within the LMB, Winter has been one of the leading biochemists in innovative techniques for creating monoclonal therapeutic antibodies and one of the pioneers in the development of techniques for the humanization of these antibodies, a key step for the human immune system not to identify them as foreign agents. He holds numerous patents and, in addition to being scientific advisor to several genetic engineering firms, was the founder in 1989 of Cambridge Antibody Technology, a biotechnology company promoted by the LMB to market these antibodies, including adalimumab for treating rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease. He also founded the companies Domantis in 2000 and Bicycle Therapeutics in 2009.

Commander of the British Empire and a Fellow of The Royal Society, the Academy of Medical Sciences of the United Kingdom, the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering and the Swedish Academy of Engineering Science, Winter has received the Louis Jeantet Prize for Medicine (Switzerland, 1989), the Emil von Behring Prize (Germany, 1990), the Milan Award (Italy, 1990), the Scheele Award of the Swedish Academy of Pharmaceutical Sciences (1994), the King Faisal International Prize in Medicine (Saudi Arabia, 1995), the Biochemical Society Award (UK, 2006) and the BioIndustry Association Award (UK, 2008), among other distinctions.

Richard Alan Lerner (Chicago, USA, 1938) studied medicine at Northwestern University and Stanford, earning his PhD at the latter in 1964. Following internship at the Palo Alto Stanford Hospital in 1965, he began his career in research and teaching in the Department of Experimental Pathology at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla (California), an institution of which he was president from 1991 to 2012. He is currently the Lita Annenberg Hazen Professor of Immunochemistry in the Department of Molecular Biology at Scripps and a member of the Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology.

Lerner was the architect of the most important advance since the discovery of monoclonal antibodies a quarter century ago: the conception, design and creation of combinatorial antibody libraries, currently the most widely used of all libraries in the field of biochemistry and which enabled a broadening of the scope of action of the immune system. Lerner set the stage in an article published in Science in 1989 and all the advances produced in the change in combinatorial libraries derived directly or indirectly from this article. Furthermore, in 1991, Lerner identified the essence of the production of antibodies without immunization and his method has remained the most efficient way to produce fully human antibodies. Moreover, Lerner has been a pioneer in the development of what are known as catalytic antibodies, a strategy to accelerate and catalyse chemical reactions for which traditional methods are not efficient.

Author of more than four hundred scientific papers, Lerner holds honorary degrees from seven universities in Europe and America. Among other awards, he has received the Wolf Prize in Chemistry (Israel, 1995), the William B. Coley Award from the Cancer Research Institute (USA, 1999) and the Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize (Germany, 2003).

According to the Statutes of the Foundation, the Prince of Asturias Awards aim “to reward the scientific, technical, cultural, social and humanistic work performed at an international level by individuals, institutions or groups of individuals or institutions”. As part of this spirit, the Prince of Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific Research shall be conferred on those “whose findings, inventions and/or research studies in the fields of Mathematics, Astronomy and Astrophysics, Physics, Chemistry, Life Sciences, Medical Sciences, Earth and Space Sciences or Technological Sciences, including the disciplines corresponding to each of these fields and their associated techniques, represent a significant contribution to the progress and welfare of Mankind.”

This year a total of 41 candidatures from Argentina, Bulgaria, Canada, Costa Rica, Cuba, France, Germany, Holland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States and Spain ran for the award.

This is the fourth of eight Prince of Asturias Awards to be bestowed this year for the thirty second time. The Prince of Asturias Award for the Arts went to Spanish architect Rafael Moneo, the Prince of Asturias Award for Social Sciences was given to American philosopher Martha C. Nussbaum and the Prince of Asturias Award for Communication and Humanities wen to Japanese video game designer Shigeru Miyamoto. The rest of awards will be announced in the coming weeks in the following order: Letters and International Cooperation, with the Sports and Concord awards being announced in September.

Each Prince of Asturias Award, which date back to 1981, comprises a diploma, a Joan Miró sculpture representing and symbolizing the Awards, an insignia bearing the Foundation’s coat of arms, and a cash prize of 50,000 Euros. The awards will be presented in the autumn in Oviedo at a grand ceremony chaired by H.R.H. the Prince of Asturias.

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