News Release

Research pioneer and paradigm-shifting thought leader for breast cancer precision medicine to receive the 2024 Szent-Györgyi Prize for Progress in Cancer Research

Grant and Award Announcement

National Foundation for Cancer Research

June 4, 2024 (Rockville, MD)

The National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR) is announcing that the blue-ribbon selection committee, composed of world-renowned research leaders and visionaries, has awarded the 2024 Szent-Györgyi Prize for Progress in Cancer Research to Dennis J. Slamon, M.D., Ph.D., from UCLA Health for his groundbreaking research discoveries that helped to shape the field of precision medicine for breast cancer patients.

 

The cancer research community will celebrate Dr. Slamon and his accomplishments on October 18, 2024, at the Szent-Györgyi Prize Dinner and Award Ceremony, NFCR's signature event of the daylong Global Summit and Award Ceremonies for Cancer Research and Entrepreneurship in Washington, DC, at The National Press Club. The media and the public are invited and encouraged to attend.

 

For decades, Dr. Slamon has relentlessly focused on pioneering cancer research and the development of novel therapies for breast cancer. In 1987, he discovered that the amplification of the growth-promoting HER2 gene led to the pathologic overexpression of the gene product and its association with 25–30% of human breast cancer. This alteration, a non-inherited mutation, defined a new subtype of breast cancer.

 

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, there was much resistance to Dr. Slamon's research as it represented a completely new way of thinking. Previously, cancers from the same organ with similar histology were presumed to be (and largely treated as) the same. His work showed that pathogenic molecular mechanisms could differ in cancers yet look the same under the microscope.

 

With unwavering determination and persistence, Dennis Slamon then demonstrated that antibodies targeting the HER2 receptors inhibited the growth of the cells in vitro and in vivo. Dr. Slamon played an instrumental role in the clinical development of HER2-targeted antibodies, from preclinical studies to the proof-of-concept early clinical work to the eventual U.S. FDA approval of Trastuzumab (Herceptin). Since Trastuzumab's approval in 1998, it has been used to treat nearly 3 million women with HER2+ breast cancer worldwide as of today.

 

Dr. Dennis Slamon's therapeutic approach has completely reversed the natural history of HER2+ breast cancers, from those with the worst to those with the best prognosis. Based on lessons from trastuzumab, he created a new paradigm of thinking for developing new cancer treatments. Targeting the molecular mechanism, not the histology, became the basis for most new cancer treatments across many cancer types.

 

Another significant discovery by Dennis Slamon revealed that estrogen receptor (ER)-positive but HER2-negative breast cancers, which account for 65% of breast cancer diagnoses, are uniquely sensitive to inhibitors of enzymes crucial to cell division, the cyclin-dependent kinases 4 and 6. This discovery and his translational research led to clinical trials and the 2015 approval of the initial targeted inhibitor of CDK-4/6, palbociclib, significantly improving the prognosis for the most common type of high-risk breast cancer from poor outcomes to one of lives saved.

 

To this day, Dr. Slamon continues to investigate mechanisms of resistance to HER2-targeted therapies and is investigating the biology of other breast cancer subtypes for clinical translation.

 

Chair of the 2024 Selection Committee and 2023 Szent-Györgyi Prize Winner, Dr. Isaac Witz, Ph.D., remarked, “I can think of none finer to receive the 2024 Szent Györgyi Prize than Dr. Slamon. The scientific and medical advances he has made for women with breast cancer have created a new paradigm for treatment options and resulting survival rates. I have known of Dr. Slamon’s research for some time and have sincerely admired his approaches, how he thinks differently than others in the field, and his tenacity to tackle the clinical trial process head-on to produce results for patients. I welcome him to the NFCR Academy of Scientists as a Szent Györgyi Prize winner.”

 

"Dr. Slamon epitomizes our vision of a Szent-Györgyi Prize winner. One of my favorite quotes from our co-founder Albert Szent-Györgyi is ‘to see what others have seen but to think differently than anybody else has thought.’ Dr. Slamon has done just this through his research around the amplification of the HER2 gene, which shed even more light on cancer being a genetic disease and paved the way for a completely new set of targeted treatments for breast cancer patients. Over time, as his research produced more and more positive results for cancer patients, many of his research and medical peers began to adopt the viewpoint of ‘breast cancer before Dennis and after Dennis.’ We could not be more proud to have Dr. Slamon as our 2024 Szent-Györgyi Prize winner," says Dr. Sujuan Ba, NFCR's President and CEO and the Co-Chair of the 2024 Szent-Györgyi Prize Selection Committee.

 

"I am truly honored and humbled to be selected by the committee for the coveted Szent-Györgyi Prize," exclaimed Dr. Dennis Slamon. "From bench to bedside, my mission from day one has always been to improve the lives of cancer patients. To be recognized by my peers and awarded this prize by the NFCR is a defining moment for me and will serve as inspiration to continue my research, fight for patients, and continue to challenge conventional thinking by consistently redefining "what's possible" as it relates to medical and treatment advancements against cancer." 

 

From basic science research to demonstrating the patience, creativity, and persistence needed to look at cancer differently and introduce targeted agents into (and successfully navigate) the clinical trial and FDA approval process, Dr. Slamon has made profoundly positive and impactful advances in cancer research and treatment development, which every day are saving lives.

 

For a complete bio of Dr. Slamon, please visit www.uclahealth.org/providers/dennis-slamon.

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About the National Foundation for Cancer Research

The National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization co-founded in 1973 by Nobel Laureate Dr. Albert Szent-Györgyi and Attorney/Business Entrepreneur Franklin Salisbury, Sr. NFCR provides scientists in the lab with the critical seed funding they need to make game-changing discoveries in cancer detection, treatment, prevention, and ultimately, a cure for all cancers. NFCR has distinguished itself in the cancer research sector by emphasizing "high-risk, high-impact" long-term and transformative pioneering research fields often overlooked by other major funding sources. With the support of more than 5.3 million individual donors over the last 51 years, the NFCR has provided $410 million in funding to cancer research, prevention, and public education. NFCR-supported research has led to some of the most significant life-saving discoveries that benefit patients today. 

 

About the Szent-Györgyi Prize for Progress in Cancer Research

The Szent-Györgyi Prize for Progress in Cancer Research was established in 2006 by the National Foundation for Cancer Research in honor of its co-founder, Albert Szent-Györgyi, M.D., Ph.D., recipient of the 1937 Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine. The award recognizes outstanding scientists whose seminal discovery or pioneering body of work has contributed to cancer prevention, diagnosis, or treatment and has had a lasting impact on understanding cancer, holding the promise of improving or saving the lives of cancer patients. Its past recipients (and their associated institutions at the time of the award) are:

 

  • Isaac P. Witz, Ph. D., Tel Aviv University, 2023
  • Rakesh Jain, Ph.D., Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, 2022
  • Mark M. Davis, Ph.D., Stanford University School of Medicine, and Tak W. Mak, Ph.D., University of Toronto and Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, 2021
  • Susan Band Horwitz, Ph.D., Albert Einstein College of Medicine, 2020
  • Steven A. Rosenberg, M.D., Ph.D., U.S. National Cancer Institute, 2019
  • Douglas R. Lowy, M.D., and John T. Schiller, Ph.D., U.S. National Cancer Institute, 2018
  • Michael N. Hall, Ph.D., Biozentrum of the University of Basel, 2017
  • Mary-Claire King, Ph.D., University of Washington School of Medicine, 2016
  • Frederick W. Alt, Ph.D., Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, 2015
  • James Allison, Ph.D., University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, 2014 and Nobel Laureate 2018
  • Alex Matter, M.D., Experimental Therapeutics Centre and A*STAR, 2013
  • Zhu Chen, M.D., Ph.D. and Zhen-Yi Wang, M.D., Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine, 2012
  • Beatrice Mintz, Ph.D., Fox Chase Cancer Center, 2011
  • Peter K. Vogt, Ph.D., Scripps Research Institute, 2010
  • Ronald A. DePinho, M.D., Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School, 2009
  • Carlo M. Croce, M.D., The Ohio State University, 2008
  • Webster K. Cavenee, Ph.D., Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, University of California San Diego, 2007
  • Harold F. Dvorak, M.D., Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, 2006

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