May 18, 2011

Lowy and Schiller Honored for Leading Research and Development of First Vaccines to Prevent Cervical Cancer

Sabin Vaccine Institute will award its 2011 Albert B. Sabin Gold Medal Award to Drs. Douglas R. Lowy and John T. Schiller today for their breakthrough research which led to the development of the first vaccines intended to prevent cancer.

Drs. Lowy and Schiller made several watershed discoveries that advanced the development of vaccines against human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV infection is the cause of virtually all cases of cervical cancer. Diagnosed in nearly half a million women worldwide each year, cervical cancer claims approximately 250,000 lives annually with an estimated 80% of cervical cancer cases occurring in the developing world.

“The Sabin Vaccine Institute is honored to bestow Drs. Lowy and Schiller with the 2011 Albert B. Sabin Gold Medal Award for their pioneering work in the fields of vaccinology and oncology,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, President of Sabin. “Millions of lives will be positively affected by Lowy and Schiller’s dedication in developing the world’s first vaccines against cervical cancer. We applaud their efforts to rid the world of this silent killer.”

For more than 25 years, Drs. Lowy and Schiller have worked at the U.S. National Institutes of Health National Cancer Institute (NCI), where they’ve led HPV research and vaccine development. It is at NCI that the two discovered that the major structural protein of papillomaviruses could self-assemble into non-infectious virus-like particles (VLPs), which had the ability to induce high levels of protective antibodies and could be produced by a method that was amenable to large-scale industrial production.

Lowy and Schiller also found that in the reference strain of HPV16— the strain that causes the most cases of cervical cancer — the protein self-assembled poorly. They then identified other isolates whose protein self-assembled efficiently and raised high levels of protective antibodies. Such discoveries ultimately resulted in the development of two commercial HPV vaccines.

“Our achievements would not be possible without the contributions of many other researchers who have worked in our labs and scientists who contributed to the vaccinology field in general,” said Dr. Schiller, Head of the Neoplastic Disease Section at NCI. “As Dr. Albert B. Sabin once said, the work of one scientist rests on the shoulders of another scientist. I thank the Sabin Vaccine Institute for this prestigious award and also thank the countless number of individuals who contributed to the momentous development of HPV vaccine technology.”

Dr. Lowy, Head of the Signaling and Oncogenesis Section at NCI added: “The first generation of HPV vaccines has tremendous potential to reduce deaths from cervical cancer, but our team is committed to increasing that impact and to reaching those who are most in need — women who reside in the developing world and often lack the monetary and infrastructural resources to be vaccinated.”

Awarded annually since 1994, the Gold Medal Award — the highest scientific honor bestowed by the Sabin Vaccine Institute — commemorates the legacy of Dr. Sabin, who developed the oral live virus polio vaccine that is widely heralded with contributing to the near elimination of polio worldwide. Dr. Sabin, in whose honor the Sabin Vaccine Institute was founded in 1993, was also an advocate of using science to reduce poverty.

Drs. Lowy and Schiller will be honored today during a ceremony at The George Washington University City View Room in Washington, DC.

About Sabin Vaccine Institute 
Sabin Vaccine Institute is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization of scientists, researchers, and advocates dedicated to reducing needless human suffering caused by vaccine preventable and neglected tropical diseases. Sabin works with governments, leading public and private organizations, and academic institutions to provide solutions for some of the world’s most pervasive health care challenges. Since its founding in 1993 in honor of the oral polio vaccine developer, Dr. Albert B. Sabin, the Institute has been at the forefront of efforts to control, treat, and eliminate vaccine preventable and neglected tropical diseases by developing new vaccines, advocating use of existing vaccines, and promoting increased access to affordable medical treatments. For more information please visit www.sabin.org.

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