The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) honored Owen N. Witte, MD, Founding Director of the Eli & Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine & Stem Cell Research, and Distinguished Professor of Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), with the 55th Annual AACR G.H.A. Clowes Memorial Award at the AACR Annual Meeting 2015.
The AACR and Eli Lilly and Company established the G.H.A. Clowes Memorial Award in 1961 to honor G.H.A. Clowes, PhD, a founding member of the AACR and Research Director at Eli Lilly. The award recognizes an individual with outstanding recent accomplishments in basic cancer research.
Dr. Witte, who is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and an Elected Fellow of the AACR Academy, is being recognized for contributions to the understanding of human leukemias, immune disorders, and epithelial cancer stem cells. Dr. Witte’s work, which contributed to the development of several approved targeted therapies, has transformed the lives of patients with Philadelphia chromosome–positive leukemias and B-cell malignancies.
Dr. Witte’s innovative work helped revolutionize modern cancer treatment by defining tyrosine kinases as crucial drug targets in human disease. Most notably, he pinpointed the molecular consequences of the Philadelphia chromosome abnormality present in chronic myelogenous leukemia and related types of leukemia and defined the tyrosine kinase activity of the ABL gene product. These findings played a crucial role in the subsequent development of ABL kinase–targeted therapies.
In addition to his research involving ABL, Dr. Witte also codiscovered Bruton agammaglobulinemia tyrosine kinase. This kinase is essential for B-cell maturation and, when mutated, results in the onset of the immunodeficiency disease, X-linked agammaglobulinemia.
More recently, Dr. Witte’s work has focused on defining the epithelial stem cell populations that contribute to prostate cancer. He is currently using mass spectrometry approaches to identify kinases that could be potential therapeutic targets for human prostate cancer.
“Much progress has been made in the area of personalized cancer medicine, due to the dedication of scientists and physicians around the world,” said Dr. Witte. “But much more work is needed as we seek to understand cancer, which is not a single disease but rather many diseases that develop differently. I thank the AACR for its leadership in this effort and am honored to receive the Clowes Memorial Award.” ■