Leaders in Genetics and Targeted Therapies Shaped Breast Cancer Research and Treatment
Susan G. Komen®, the world’s leading breast cancer organization, awarded Drs. Lisa Coussens and Eric Winer with its highest honor, the Brinker Award for Scientific Distinction, at this week’s San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.
Established by Komen in 1992, the prestigious Brinker Awards for Scientific Distinction recognize advances in both our understanding of the underlying mechanisms of breast cancer (Basic Science) – and the clinical setting (Clinical Research), which are both essential to combating the disease.
This year’s Brinker Award for Scientific Distinction in Basic Science was presented to Lisa Coussens, Ph.D., Professor of Cell, Developmental and Cancer Biology, School of Medicine, at the Knight Cancer Institute at Oregon Health & Sciences University in Portland, OR.
“This award is a tremendous honor for my lab, all the trainees who have come through my lab, me and my family. This is truly an honor for the lab and speaks to the early science that came out of the lab that has changed the way people think,” said Dr. Coussens.
Dr. Coussens has made several pivotal discoveries about the role of immune cells in cancer development and progression. In a seminal study, she demonstrated that certain immune cells were actually “hijacked” by early tumors to promote breast cancer growth and metastasis. She and her team discovered an intricate cell-cell communication process through which tumor cells trigger T-lymphocytes or T-cells (a type of white blood cell involved in controlling the immune response to foreign substances) to recruit another type of white blood cell called macrophages to early tumors. Normally involved in clearing debris, macrophages around tumor cells produce epidermal growth factor (EGF) that in turn promotes tumor cell proliferation and invasion. This provocative finding expanded our understanding of the tumor microenvironment and sparked additional research aimed at reprogramming these immune cells by designing and then testing targeted and immune-based therapies to prevent them from aiding and abetting the cancer.
“We are excited to honor Dr. Coussens with this distinction. Her work is helping lay the foundation for the development and clinical use of immunotherapies that will significantly impact the future of breast cancer research and treatment,” said Komen’s Chief Scientific Advisor, Jennifer Pietenpol, Ph.D., Executive Vice President for Research at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Director of the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, the B.F. Byrd Jr. Professor of Molecular Oncology, and Professor of Biochemistry and Otolaryngology at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “In addition to her groundbreaking research, she is also an incredible mentor to countless young researchers helping to ensure that the next generation of scientists enter the breast cancer field.”
This year’s Brinker Award for Clinical Distinction in Clinical Research was presented to Eric Winer, M.D., Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Senior Vice President for Medical Affairs, Director, Breast Cancer Program; Thompson Chair in Breast Cancer Research, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, MA.
“There is a long list of people who have received the Brinker Award over the years and they are all remarkable people. To be on that list feels pretty special. I’m incredibly touched and honored,” said Dr. Winer.
Dr. Winer is being honored for his devotion to applying the advances from clinical trials to daily practice to improve breast cancer patient care and quality of life. He has designed and conducted a wide array of clinical trials that have changed clinical practice or paved the way towards more personalized treatment of breast cancer. His career has focused on optimizing the treatment of breast cancer for specific patient populations. His clinical research has included multimodality studies to determine optimal drug doses and treatment durations, the best treatment sequence and the most effective drug combinations to treat early, locally advanced and metastatic breast cancers.
“Dr. Winer’s accomplishments in breast cancer research and in the clinic have impacted treatment for all stages and all the major biologic subtypes of the disease and led to lasting impact on patient outcomes,” said Komen’s Chief Scientific Advisor, Dr. George Sledge, M.D., Professor of Medicine, and Chief of the Division of Oncology in the Department of Medicine at Stanford University. “Throughout his career he has appreciated the impact treatment has on patients and has focused on developing greater individualization in treatment, so that we can achieve highly effective treatment with fewer side effects.”
Both 2018 Brinker Award winners delivered keynote lectures at the 41st annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium and were honored at an awards ceremony, which also included the recognition of nine early career investigators who have received funding from Susan G. Komen to research areas involving metastatic breast cancer and treatment resistance.
Advancing breast cancer research has been a priority for Komen since opening its doors in 1982. To date, Komen has invested more than $988 million in breast cancer research – including nearly $26 million announced earlier this year – making it the largest nonprofit funder of breast cancer research outside of the U.S. government.