General Motors Foundation has recognized renowned scientist Dr. Napoleone Ferrara through its General Motors Cancer Research Awards (GMCRA) program for his seminal contribution to cancer research. His work has laid the foundation for validating the concept of anti-angiogenic therapy in cancer, which inhibits the growth of new blood vessels. As a result of his work, an innovative new drug was approved by the FDA for the treatment of colorectal cancer in 2004.
Dr. Ferrara joined the South San Francisco-based biotechnology company Genentech in 1988 after completing his postdoctoral studies at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). While hired to work on relaxin, a hormone associated with human reproduction function, Dr. Ferrara took advantage of a Genentech policy that allows scientists to pursue their own research interests. He used this discretionary time to study the potential role anti-angiogenesis might play in cancer treatment. The following year Dr. Ferrara and his team made a groundbreaking discovery that would change the understanding and treatment of cancer. They identified and cloned a gene for vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), a protein that plays a crucial role in the development of cancer via angiogenesis, a process where tumors signal for the blood supply necessary to grow.
In 1993, Dr. Ferrara showed that an antibody directed at VEGF could suppress angiogenesis and tumor growth in preclinical models. Clinical studies with a humanized version of the antibody, Avastin®, began four years later.
In 2003, Genentech reported positive results from a pivotal Phase III clinical trial of Avastin plus 5-FU-based chemotherapy in first-line metastatic colorectal cancer. These findings surpassed all expectations and represent a significant advance in cancer treatment.
Today, Avastin is an FDA-approved drug that has enhanced the lives of tens of thousands of cancer patients.
"I am honored and humbled to receive the General Motors Cancer Research Award," said Dr. Ferrara. "I am inspired by the possibility of combining exciting basic science with the development of novel therapies for important diseases with an unmet medical need. The field of angiogenesis is exquisitely suitable for such a combination."
"It is exceptionally rare for a scientist to define a basic element of cancer cell growth, develop a therapy to combat this growth, and then witness the successful application of this treatment in patients with cancer", said Samuel A. Wells, Jr., president of the GMCRA Program. "To have a basic laboratory or clinical science discovery translated into a successful cancer therapy is the goal of everyone in basic cancer research."
In addition to Dr. Ferrara's cancer breakthroughs, his VEGF research has led to the clinical development of an anti-VEGF antibody fragment, Lucentis™ (ranibizumab), as a potential treatment for wet age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in adults. Genentech hopes to receive FDA approval for Lucentis later this month. Energized by these groundbreaking findings, Dr. Ferrara is currently pursuing his study into how VEGF could be used to treat other types of cancer, ocular diseases and disorders of tissue growth and repair. One of his recent advancements suggests there might be methods of switching the blood supply on and off to various parts of the body, which could have significant implications in the treatment of cancer, heart disease, blindness and wound treatment. A native of Italy, Dr. Ferrara came to the United States to study endocrinology after completing his residency at the University of Catania Medical School in Italy in 1983. GMF has made cancer research a key philanthropic priority, and this year marks the 29th anniversary of the GMCRA program. GMF has given more than $54 million to the cause, and is committed to help eradicate cancer and support cancer research.
Dr. Wells praised Dr. Ferrara and cited his major contribution to combating this deadly disease. He noted that the laureate was chosen through a rigorous review process conducted by distinguished international scientists who served on the GMCRA program Selection Committees and Awards Assembly.
"Dr. Napoleone Ferrara, this year's GM Cancer Research Award recipient, has made groundbreaking discoveries that affect the lives of many people around the world," said Dr. Wells. "It is essential that we continue to encourage cancer research by supporting the scientists who are dedicated to finding a cure for the disease."
The GM Cancer Research Annual Scientific Conference, sponsored by the GMCRA program, will be held at the National Institutes of Health June 12 and 13. This year's conference will focus on genomics and cancer and includes a lecture by Ferrara describing his research. GM will present the $250,000 prize and a gold medallion to the laureate during an awards ceremony in Washington, D.C. on the evening of June 13.
About the GMCRA program
The GMCRA program was founded in 1978 by former GM Chairman Roger Smith and Dr. Joseph G. Fortner, attending surgeon at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. It was Smith's passion for eradicating cancer that led him to call on his friend, Dr. Fortner, to ask him to partner with GM to create "a Nobel prize for cancer research - something to encourage the importance of continued research and idea sharing to wipe out this disease." The GMCRA annually recognize the outstanding accomplishments of basic scientists and clinical scientists in cancer research around the world. The first GMCRA was given on May 2, 1979.
The GMCRA program has previously awarded nearly $15 million to 108 scientists in an effort to focus worldwide scientific and public attention on cancer research. Thirteen previous winners have subsequently won Nobel Prizes.
About General Motors
General Motors Corp. (NYSE: GM), the world's largest automaker, has been the global industry sales leader for 75 years. Founded in 1908, GM today employs about 327,000 people around the world. With global headquarters in Detroit, GM manufactures its cars and trucks in 33 countries. In 2005, 9.17 million GM cars and trucks were sold globally under the following brands: Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC, GM Daewoo, Holden, HUMMER, Opel, Pontiac, Saab, Saturn and Vauxhall. GM operates one of the world's leading finance companies, GMAC Financial Services, which offers automotive, residential and commercial financing and insurance. GM's OnStar subsidiary is the industry leader in vehicle safety, security and information services. More information on GM can be found at www.gm.com.
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