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Award winners - AZ Foundation & FWO/F.R.S.-FNRS


Together with the FWO and the F.R.S.-FNRS, the AstraZeneca Foundation annually awards scientific prizes to original and/or in-depth contributions to a specific medical field. Prizes are granted each year to researchers who have carried out important work in a specific therapeutic field. 2 prizes, one of €25,000 and one of €50,000 were awarded in 2012. The 2012 winners are Diether Lambrechts and Bart De Geest, both professors at KU Leuven. Professor Lambrechts was awarded the sum of €50,000 for his research into the discovery and validation of genetic biomarkers for targeted cancer therapies. While Professor De Geest received €25,000 for his research into new therapeutic areas for HDL-targeted therapies. The winners were chosen by an independent jury set up by the FWO and the F.R.S.- FNRS.

Dr Bart De Geest

Dr Bart De Geest

KU Leuven

Cardiovascular Award

25 000€

“New therapeutic areas for HDL-targeted therapies”

This year, the AstraZeneca Foundation Award for Cardiovascular Disease (worth €25,000) was attributed to Professor Bart De Geest (KU Leuven). Professor De Geest has in fact discovered that the pleiotropic properties of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) offer prospects for investigating the therapeutic potential of HDL beyond the traditional field of atherosclerosis and ischemic cardiovascular disease.

As yet, there is still no medication capable of selectively increasing HDL. However, De Geest’s team has recently developed a gene therapy that introducing a gene into the liver’s cells can increase the production of apolipoprotein A-I, resulting in a selective increase in HDL.

This gene therapy’s potential in the fight against heart failure and diabetic ulcers is currently under study. Selective HDL raising gene transfer could play an important role in helping to prevent and treat heart failure. In addition, topical HDL therapy is expected to improve the healing of diabetic ulcers, thus significantly reducing the number of lower limb amputations in diabetic patients.

Professor Bart De Geest

Dr Diether Lambrechts

Dr Diether Lambrechts

KU Leuven

Translational Research Award

50 000€

“Discovery and validation of genetic biomarkers for targeted cancer therapies”

Professor Diether Lambrechts (KU Leuven) is the winner of the 2012 AstraZeneca Foundation Award for Translational Research. Working alongside his colleagues from the Laboratory for Translational Genetics, he has developed methods and processes for identifying biomarkers then validating them to introduce a targeted cancer therapy.

Many recently developed cancer drugs fight certain molecular abnormalities in tumour cells or in their surrounding environment. Because of their singularity, these targeted therapies are effective only in a determined subgroup of patients. Identifying the biomarkers capable of determining patients eligible for a specific targeted therapy is therefore a big challenge. Lambrechts and his team have notably developed methods for obtaining very accurate and complete genome and exome sequences of different tumours. “When these methods were applied to patients with advanced pancreatic or kidney cancer, treated using an angiogenesis inhibitor, we discovered a predictive biomarker in the VEGF receptor 1,” says Diether Lambrechts. This variant increased the expression of the VEGFR-1, hence compensating for the targeted therapy’s anti-angiogenic activity.

The team plans to use similar procedures in the future for other therapies. “We believe that ‘tailor-made therapies’, involving biomarkers capable of informing us of the kind of effects we can expect from a given treatment in a given patient, will become common practice in the hospital environment,” says Lambrechts.

Professor Diether Lambrechts

NS Approval ID 1009870 Revision date 09/2016