The 2019 Lasker Awards

The International Biomedical Research Alliance, in collaboration with the Lasker Foundation, invited six doctoral candidate students from the NIH Oxford-Cambridge/Wellcome Trust Scholars Program to attend the 2019 Lasker Awards in New York City. 

The Scholars attended Breakfast at Lasker, an intimate gathering of the 2019 Lasker Laureates moderated by Jordan Gutterman, M.D. The breakfast provided a roundtable discussion for the group to ask questions ranging from career paths, making new discoveries, and how their discoveries are impacting human health today. 

Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, CEO Dr. Seth Berkley, discussed with the breakfast attendees the essential aspect of their mission: empowering the countries with which they work. He shared that this was not something science has included in the past but, by doing so, allows these countries’ people to have an even greater impact. Lasker Laureate Dr. Max Cooper shared that it is not always clear whether or not a research question has the potential for medical impact. However, he advised that researchers should follow their interests because many clinical advances started from curiosity driven research.  Throughout the course of the roundtable discussion, each of the laureates gave thoughtful responses to questions posed by the group and provided some very personal insights and pearls of wisdom.

Following breakfast, the Scholars took photographs with the 2019 winners and attended a reception that included current and past Lasker Laureates, as well as renowned scientists and notable guests arriving to attend the awards ceremony. 

The Lasker Basic Research Award honored Max D. Cooper of the Emory School of Medicine and Jacques F.A.P. Miller of The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, Parkville, Australia, for their discovery of the two distinct classes of lymphocytes, β and T cells, an achievement that provided the organizing principle of the adaptive immune system. Their pioneering and historic work over fifty years ago launched the course of modern immunology, inspiring major advances in basic and medical science.

The Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Research Award honored H. Michael Shepard, Dennis J. Slamon, and Axel Ullrich for their invention of Herceptin, the first monoclonal antibody that blocks a cancer-causing protein, and for its development as a life-saving therapy for women with breast cancer. Shepard, currently with BetterOutcomes4Cancer, and Slamon, now at Max Planck Institute of Biochemisry, Martinsried, Germany, did their Herceptin work at Genentech. Slamon’s research was conducted at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he continues to work. The influence and impact of the Herceptin story extends beyond the development of a major new therapy. For example, stratifying patients based on expression/amplification of a gene and using a monoclonal antibody to block a cancer-causing protein are now being applied to other proteins in other cancers as well.

The Lasker-Bloomberg Public Science Award honored Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, for providing sustained access to childhood vaccines around the globe, saving millions of lives, and for highlighting the power of immunization to prevent disease. Gavi is a public-private global partnership that brings together the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the World Bank, the vaccine industry, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and several other philanthropic organizations. Thanks to Gavi, more than 600 million children in 73 of the poorest countries have been vaccinated, with an estimated 8 million deaths averted. Over the last 16 years, Gavi has raised global immunization rates by bringing vaccines available to developing countries, by financially supporting the development of new vaccines, and by building stronger health care systems. 

For full descriptive information on the 2019 Lasker Award winners, video viewing of award overviews, and expectance speeches, please visit: The Lasker Foundation. We gratefully thank the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation for the opportunity to allow the Scholars to attend the prestigious Lasker Awards.