Yale's Joseph "Yossi" Schlessinger Receives Dan David Award

Joseph Schlessinger

New Haven, Conn. Joseph Schlessinger, professor and chair of the Department of Pharmacology at Yale School of Medicine, will share the $1 million Dan David Prize for his research on innovative ways of treating cancer.

The Dan David Prize is a joint international enterprise endowed by the Dan David Foundation and headquartered at Tel Aviv University. The prize recognizes and encourages innovative and interdisciplinary research that cuts across traditional boundaries and paradigms. It aims to foster universal values of excellence, creativity, justice, democracy and progress and to promote the scientific, technological and humanistic achievements that advance and improve our world.

The Dan David Prize, now in its fifth year, covers three time dimensions—Past, Present and Future—that represent realms of human achievement. Schlessinger, the program director of the Signal Transduction and Drug Discovery Research Program at Yale Cancer Center, was recognized in the “future” category.

Among others awarded the prize this year are John Mendelsohn, president of the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas, who received the award with Schlessinger, the cellist YoYo Ma, a group of four journalists.

The awards were named for Dan David, a native of Romania who made his fortune inventing, patenting, developing and marketing photographic technologies, including automatic photo booths.

“I am delighted that Yossi (Schlessinger) has won this award,” said Yale School of Medicine Dean Robert Alpern, M.D. “He has made groundbreaking findings in our understanding of how tyrosine kinases work and has translated this into the development of treatments for cancer. This translation of outstanding basic science to the bedside to help patients is exactly the paradigm American research is seeking.”

Schlessinger, the William H. Prusoff Professor of Pharmacology at Yale, discovered a new code for activation of membrane receptors and for information flow from the cell surface into intracellular compartments. He also demonstrated how dysfunction in membrane receptors can cause cancer and other diseases. For the past 25 years, Schlessinger has been analyzing the mode of action of growth factor receptors and the intracellular signaling pathways that are activated in response to growth factor stimulation.

His pioneering studies provided the conceptual foundation and paved the way for discovering new families of drugs used for the treatment of many cancers and other diseases caused by dysfunctions in particular enzymes. Specifically, the research led Sugen, a company founded by Schlessinger and Axel Ullrich from Germany, to development of the drug Sutent/SU11248 for treatment of renal cancers and gastrointestinal stromal tumors, including those resistant to one of the only available medications used to treat the disease. Sutent was just approved by the FDA in January 2006.

“I am very thrilled to receive the 2006 Dan David Prize,” said Schlessinger. “We scientists are always happy when we receive recognition for our work. I am planning to donate a portion of the prize for academic activities in the Department of Pharmacology.”

Each year the International Board chooses one field within each time dimension. Following a review by Independent Review Committees comprised of renowned scholars and professionals, the International Board then chooses the laureates for each field. The past refers to fields that expand knowledge of former times. The present recognizes achievements that shape and enrich society today. The future focuses on breakthroughs that hold great promise for improvement of our world.

Three prizes of $1 million each are granted annually in the fields chosen for the three time dimensions. The prize is unique in that its laureates donate 10 percent of their prize money to graduate students in their respective fields, thereby contributing to the community and fostering a new generation of scholars.

The awards ceremony will be held May 21 at Tel Aviv University.

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