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Alum Wins Lasker Award

by | Sep 25, 2019 | Health, On Campus

UC Davis alumnus H. Michael Shepard ’73 received one of the 2019 Lasker Awards, widely considered America’s top biomedical research prizes, on Sept. 20.

He and two colleagues, Dennis J. Slamon and Axel Ullrich, shared the Lasker~DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award and a $250,000 honorarium for their groundbreaking development of the drug Herceptin, a lifesaving therapy for women with HER2-positive breast cancer. The Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation honored the trio at a ceremony in New York City.

Shepard received an undergraduate degree in zoology (cellular and developmental biology) at UC Davis, then earned a Ph.D. in cellular and developmental biology and genetics at Indiana University Bloomington in 1980.

Shepard (now at BetterOutcomes4Cancer) and Ullrich (now at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry) conducted their Herceptin investigations at Genentech, while Slamon did his at UCLA, where he continues to work as a physician and scientist.

They demonstrated that monoclonal antibodies — proteins that bind to specific invader organisms or abnormal (cancerous) cells — were a viable and effective strategy to treat solid tumors, opening a new path to develop and deploy antibodies to treat cancer. Clinical results showed that Herceptin, when coupled with chemotherapy, stalled HER2-positive breast cancer progression and extended survival compared with chemotherapy alone.

HER2-positive breast cancer is an aggressive type of breast cancer characterized by multiple copies of the gene coding for the protein HER2 (human epidermal growth factor receptor 2). More than 50,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with this type of breast cancer every year.

The Food and Drug Administration approved Herceptin in 1998. According to the Lasker Foundation, more than 2.3 million women have been treated with the drug to date.