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2016 Lasker Award recipients named

by Linda Wang
November 14, 2016 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 94, Issue 45

Credit: Tekmira
Photo of Michael Sofia.
Credit: Tekmira

Michael J. Sofia, chief scientific officer at Arbutus Biopharma, shared the 2016 Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award with Ralf F. W. Bartenschlager of the University of Heidelberg and Charles M. Rice of Rockefeller University. The scientists were honored for their development of a system to study the replication of the virus that causes hepatitis C and for using the system to revolutionize the treatment of the disease.

The Lasker Awards honor accomplishments in basic and clinical medical research and special achievement. The awards carry an honorarium of $250,000 for each category and are shared equally among the recipients of each award. Many Lasker laureates have gone on to win the Nobel Prize.

“When one gets the opportunity to meet patients whose lives have been transformed by a drug that you have helped create and to hear their stories of lifelong struggle and ultimate triumph, that provides motivation enough to want to keep on trying to make a difference,” says Sofia, who discovered the compound sofosbuvir, which led to the hepatitis C virus drug Sovaldi. “It should be noted that the discovery and development of a drug such as sofosbuvir cannot be done by one individual. It takes the hard work of many individuals to take an idea and make it a reality for patients. I am honored and humbled to be able to represent all of those dedicated scientists who have been part of this incredible success story.”

In addition, William G. Kaelin Jr., Peter J. Ratcliffe, and Gregg L. Semenza were awarded the 2016 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award for the discovery of the pathway by which cells from humans and most animals sense and adapt to changes in oxygen availability, a process essential for survival.

And Bruce M. Alberts is the recipient of the 2016 Lasker-Koshland Special Achievement Award in Medical Science for fundamental discoveries in DNA replication and protein biochemistry, for visionary leadership in directing national and international scientific organizations to better people’s lives, and for passionate dedication to improving education in science and mathematics.

“The 2016 Lasker winners combined exceptional insight, creativity, and perseverance in pursuing crucial questions in medical science,” said Joseph L. Goldstein, chair of the Lasker Medical Research Awards jury. The awards were presented on Sept. 23 in New York City.

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