The 2012 Warren Alpert Foundation Prize was awarded on September 24 to four scientists instrumental in developing the drug bortezomib, which has radically altered the therapeutic landscape for hundreds of thousands of individuals with multiple myeloma, a deadly blood cancer.
This year’s recipients were Julian Adams, president of research and development at Infinity Pharmaceuticals; Kenneth Anderson, the Kraft Family Professor of Medicine at Dana–Farber Cancer Institute; Alfred Goldberg, an HMS professor of cell biology; and Paul Richardson, the R.J. Corman Associate Professor of Medicine at Dana–Farber. The awards were conferred by Bevin Kaplan, director of the Foundation.
The story of bortezomib, now marketed as Velcade, embodies the Alpert Foundation’s vision for honoring transformative science. The prize, now in its twenty-fifth year, recognizes researchers whose laboratory discoveries offer dramatic promise for improving human health.
“Adams, Anderson, Goldberg, and Richardson’s discovery and development of bortezomib as a treatment for multiple myeloma beautifully fulfills the mission of the prize of rewarding bench-to-bedside translational research,” says Jeffrey S. Flier, dean of the faculty of medicine at HMS.
In 1993, Goldberg teamed up with three Harvard faculty investigators to establish a company with the primary goal of developing a compound that would inhibit the biochemical activity of the proteasome. Interest in the proteasome, a cellular structure that collects damaged or unused proteins generated during the protein breakdown process, stemmed from the fact that its actions contribute to the loss of muscle mass. Many of the forerunners of bortezomib that were synthesized in the company’s laboratories have since been used by thousands of investigators to uncover the proteasome’s critical role in regulating many key processes.
In 2003, bortezomib was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “Bortezomib is a wonderful example of how basic biological information gleaned from the laboratory can have unforeseen applications years later,” says Goldberg. “I speak for all four of us when I say how wonderful it is to be recognized by the Alpert Foundation.”