Public Release: 

Albert Szent-Györgyi Prize for Progress in Cancer Research to Harvard's Harold F. Dvorak, M.D.

Discoverer of VegF honored for significance of finding

National Foundation for Cancer Research

Bethesda, MD- The National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR) today announced that Harold F. Dvorak, M.D., Mallinckrodt Professor of Pathology at Harvard Medical School and Chief of the Department of Pathology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, has been awarded the inaugural Albert Szent-Györgyi Prize for Progress in Cancer Research.

The Szent-Györgyi Prize Committee selected Dr. Dvorak based on his breakthrough discovery of vascular permeability factor/vascular endothelial cell growth factor (VPF/VEGF) and that contribution that has led to a series of discoveries which both elucidated the mechanisms of angiogenesis as well as the development of antibodies and small molecule therapies to inhibit VEGF.

"Without Dr. Dvorak's fundamental discovery we would probably not have had the therapeutic agent bevacizumab which has had a tremendous impact on improving survival for patients with advanced colorectal cancer, breast cancer, non-cell lung cancer and renal cell carcinoma", stated Chairman of the Szent-Györgyi Prize Committee Dr. Daniel Von Hoff, Vice President of the Translational Genomics Research Institute in Phoenix. "In addition, other small molecules which inhibit VEGF have also shown outstanding clinical antitumor activity with dramatic therapeutic effects for patients worldwide."

"Dr. Dvorak's seminal discoveries in basic science have led to significant clinical benefits for cancer patients, perfectly fitting the unique criteria of the Albert Szent-Györgyi Prize for Progress in Cancer Research," said Sujuan Ba, Ph.D., NFCR Chief Scientific Officer and Co-Chair of the Szent-Györgyi Prize Committee. "Dr. Dvorak's key VPF/VEGF discovery paved the way for researchers to better understand the mechanisms involved in tumor angiogenesis. His work is now being utilized in very real practical applications, offering hope for angiogenesis-centered treatments to halt and even reverse tumor growth."

Published in 1983 in the journal Science, Harold Dvorak, M.D. and his colleagues were the first to show that tumor cells secreted VPF and that a blocking antibody to VPF could prevent the devastating edema and fluid accumulation characteristic of ovarian, breast, and many other human cancers. This discovery laid the foundation and also provided the molecular basis for the entire angiogenesis field and what is now one of modern medicines most promising anti-cancer hopes. In 1986, Dr. Dvorak went on to demonstrate in the journal Cancer Research that VPF was secreted by a variety of human tumor cell lines and proposed that VPF was in part responsible for the abnormal vasculature seen in human tumors. As a result, he and other investigators demonstrated that VPF was capable of stimulating endothelial cell growth and angiogenesis. These fundamental discoveries led to additional research conducted by Dr. Napoleone Ferrara and his lab confirming the cloning of VPF and renaming the protein Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor or VEGF. Ferrara and his colleagues later developed an inhibiting antibody against VEGF that has demonstrated outstanding clinical anti-tumor activity.

In another 1986 paper in the New England Journal of Medicine Dvorak proposed that by secreting VPF tumors induce angiogenesis by turning on the wound healing response. He noted that wounds, like tumors, secrete VPF, causing blood vessels to leak plasma fibrinogen which stimulates blood vessel growth and provides a matrix on which they can spread. Unlike wounds however that turn off VPF production after healing, tumors did not turn off their VPF production and instead continued to make large amounts of VPF, allowing malignant cells to continue to induce new blood vessels and so to grow and spread. Thus, tumors behave as wounds that fail to heal. This work is again extremely significant for patients worldwide, as Dr. Dvorak's scientific research is leading his colleagues all over the world to examine how to treat a tumor through its blood supply.

Harold F. Dvorak, M.D. stepped down as Chair of Pathology at Beth Israel in July after 26 years to devote his life to basic science cancer research; he is emeritus Mallinckrodt Professor of Pathology at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Dvorak is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and of the National Foundation for Cancer Research, and has served as President of the American Society for Investigative Pathology. Educated at Princeton University and Harvard Medical School, he did residency training in Pathology at the Massachusetts General Hospital and postdoctoral research training at the National Institutes of Health. He has served on the Harvard Medical School faculty since 1967 and at Beth Israel since 1979 and has written over 220 original journal reports.

When informed that he was the recipient of the award, Dr. Dvorak said I am surprised and delighted, but also humbled because of my great respect for Dr. Szent-Gyorgyi whom he had known and greatly admired for his independent spirit and outstanding contributions to science." Dvorak also noted that the award meant even more to him because NFCR had provided some of the initial funding for his work on VPF, at a time when no one else believed in the concept and grant support was hard to come by.

The Albert Szent-Györgyi Prize for Progress in Cancer Research was established by the National Foundation for Cancer Research in honor of its co-founder, Dr. Albert Szent-Györgyi, recipient of the 1937 Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine for his study on Vitamin C and cell respiration. Dr. Szent-Györgyi was a leading advocate for developing resources to provide scientists with the financial support necessary to pursue innovative cancer research. In 1973 he changed the face of cancer research funding by founding the National Foundation for Cancer Research with entrepreneur Franklin C. Salisbury.

The annual Albert Szent-Györgyi Prize for Progress in Cancer Research carries a $25,000 cash prize and was established to honor outstanding scientific achievement in the war against cancer and celebrate leading researchers who have made extraordinary contributions in the field of cancer research. The Prize is designed to draw attention to the continued need to support basic science cancer research.

Any scientist or individual may be nominated for the annual prize by his or her peers and the winner is selected by a prize committee of academic, scientific, business and non-profit leaders highly qualified to review and select the Prize winner.

The inaugural prize committee consisted of: Daniel Von Hoff, M.D. TGen; Sujuan Ba, Ph.D., NFCR; Stanley Cohen, M.D., Stanford University; Bruce Zetter, Ph.D., Children's Hospital Boston; Stephen Sallan, M.D., Dana Farber Cancer Institute; Thea Tlsty, Ph.D., University of California, San Francisco; Dennis Carson, M.D., University of California, San Diego; and Richard Gaynor, M,D., Eli Lilly.


About the National Foundation for Cancer Research
Since its founding, the NFCR has spent more than $220 million funding basic science cancer research and prevention education focused on understanding how and why cells become cancerous. NFCR has established a powerful collaborative network of nine research centers and more than 50 laboratories around the world in the fight against cancer. NFCR scientists work together to share knowledge so that discoveries at the bench can be accelerated to the bedside. NFCR is "Research for a Cure". Visit or call 800-321-CURE.

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