University of California San Francisco
Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

Ferrera’s Lasker Award-Winning Research Began at UCSF

By Jeff Norris, UCSF Today | September 24, 2010

A new generation of cancer drugs and a successful treatment for an eye disease that can lead to blindness are the fruits of two decades of work by former UCSF postdoctoral fellow and current Genentech scientist Napoleone Ferrara, MD, who has just been named the winner of a Lasker Award, the premier US biomedical research prize.

The Lasker Foundation announced on Sept. 21 that Ferrara has won the 2010 Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award, which includes $250,000, for his studies of new blood vessel growth that led to the new disease treatments. The growth of new blood vessels is vital for tumor growth. Uncontrolled blood vessel growth also plays a role in wet macular degeneration, a form of the disease that is a common cause of blindness in the elderly.

Over many years, Ferrara parlayed basic research studies, started at UCSF, into the successful development of two drugs that are similar to each other. One is Avastin, now used in treatment regimens targeted against certain types of lung, colon, brain, kidney and breast cancer. The other is Lucentis, used to treat wet macular degeneration.

Ferrara was hot on the trail of the molecule from which his most noteworthy achievements stem while he was still at UCSF. Trained in his native Italy as a physician specializing in endocrinology, Ferrara came to the United States in 1983 as a postdoctoral fellow. He worked in the laboratories of two UCSF researchers who were conducting pioneering studies on new blood vessel growth, a process that scientists call angiogenesis.

Read more at Jeff Norris, UCSF Today