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Johnson & Johnson Honors 2009 Recipient of The Dr. Paul Janssen Award for Biomedical Research


Axel Ullrich Recognized for Discoveries Leading to Novel Cancer and Diabetes Therapies

Beerse, Belgium .– Johnson & Johnson today honored the career achievements of Axel Ullrich, Ph.D., with the 2009 Dr. Paul Janssen Award for Biomedical Research. Dr. Ullrich received this award for his scientific discoveries that led to innovative new drugs including Herceptin® (trastuzumab),* a personalized medicine therapy, which was the first to target a specific type of breast cancer. Dr. Ullrich also led the development of the first drug created through gene cloning, a recombinant human insulin for treating diabetes which arguably marked the beginning of the biotechnology age. Dr. Ullrich, director for the Department of Molecular Biology, Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry in Germany, was presented with the Award during a ceremony at The Dr. Paul Janssen Research Center in Beerse, Belgium, where he received the $100,000 prize.

“Dr. Ullrich’s pioneering research translated genomics-based discoveries into new treatments that improve the lives of millions of patients,” said Harlan Weisman, M.D., chief science and technology officer, Medical Devices & Diagnostics, Johnson & Johnson. “The 2009 Award recognizes his commitment to advancing translational research, an approach that embodies the spirit of Dr. Paul Janssen, who himself pioneered the development of more than 80 different medicines.”

Working at Genentech, Inc. more than 25 years ago, Ullrich developed genetically engineered human insulin, the first therapeutic derived from gene cloning. This insulin is structurally identical to the naturally occurring form, and acts more quickly and with fewer allergic reactions than insulin made from other sources. Ullrich and collaborators discovered later that decade that the neu/HER2 gene is amplified and overexpressed in more than 30 percent of invasive, or more aggressive, breast cancers. HER2 was chosen for the development of an entirely novel cancer therapy, culminating in the production of an anti-HER2 monoclonal antibody that since 1998 has been used successfully to treat patients with metastatic breast cancer. This was the first targeted drug developed on the basis of a newly discovered gene associated with a cancer causing function in humans.

In the early 1990s, Ullrich identified the signaling system involved in regulating tumor angiogenesis, the growth of blood vessels in tumors. He discovered that inhibiting a key player in the signaling system (called vascular endothelial growth factor receptor or VEGFR) suppresses the generation of blood vessels in tumors and slows down cancer cell growth. Years later, a small molecule inhibitor of the VEGFR2 kinase function was developed, from which a derivative was approved in 2006 for the treatment of kidney carcinoma and gastro-intestinal stromal tumors.

“It is an honor to be recognized with an award of this stature,” said Ullrich. "Dr. Paul was a highly respected scientist whose work continues to extend and improve the lives of people all over the world. I am truly humbled to be selected as the recipient of an award whose namesake carries on his tremendous legacy.”

“Dr. Ullrich is one of the few basic scientists whose work directly affects the lives of countless patients suffering from major chronic diseases,” said Paul Stoffels, M.D., global head, Research & Development, Pharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson. “We are proud to present The Dr. Paul Janssen Award to such a passionate pioneer in biomedical research.”

Ullrich has previously received prestigious honors and awards, including the Robert Koch Prize, the Bruce F. Cain Memorial Award of the American Association of Cancer Research and the King Faisal Prize of Medicine.


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