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


The AstraZeneca Foundation brings science and society together and stimulates the social debate on the importance of clinical research. By doing so, the AstraZeneca Foundation aims to create a framework in which scientific progress can benefit society. Together with the FWO and the F.R.S.-FNRS, AstraZeneca Foundation annually awards Scientific Prizes to researchers who have carried out important work in a specific therapeutic field. In 2017, three Scientific Prizes are awarded for contributions in the domains of Epigenetics, Healthy Ageing and Immunotherapy. Each laureate received a sum of € 25,000 to continue his innovative research.

The 2017 winners of these Scientific Awards are respectively Prof. Pieter Van Vlierberghe, Prof. Anne Spinewine and Prof. Evelien Smits. Prof. Pieter Van Vlierberghe received the Epigenetics Award for his research on new leukaemia therapies. Prof. Spinewine was awarded the Healthy Ageing Award for her research on innovative methods of prescribing drugs for the elderly. Finally, the Immunotherapy Award was allocated to Prof. Smits for her research on new treatments through immunotherapy.

The three winners were elected by an independent jury composed by the FWO and F.R.S.-FNRS.

Prof. Pieter Van Vlierberghe

Prof. Pieter Van Vlierberghe


Epigenetics Award


“Our efforts should pave the way for new molecularly adapted epigenetic therapies with reduced toxic side effects”

The jury has decided in favour of Prof. Pieter Van Vlierberghe, who is an Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Ghent. He is also a member of several medical associations including the Cancer Epigenetics Society and, as of 2018, the Fellowships and Grants Committee of the European Hematology Association (EHA).

Prof. Pieter Van Vlierberghe and his team received the AstraZeneca Foundation Award 2017 in Oncology for their promising breakthrough in deciphering the molecular mechanism of action of leukaemia associated with epigenetic alterations, as well as in identifying epigenetic vulnerabilities in human leukaemia. This pioneering research project, representing a significant step forward in the field of leukaemia, has high potential for future new therapies with reduced toxic side effects.

Prof. Anne Spinewine

Prof. Anne Spinewine


Healthy Ageing Award


“We have seen significant improvements in drug use when clinical pharmacists are integrated into hospital geriatric teams”

The use of drugs is an essential component of the care of the elderly. However, so-called inappropriate prescriptions - over-prescriptions, sub-prescriptions or inappropriate prescriptions - are frequent. They lead to increased morbidity, decreased quality of life and increased costs.

Prof. Spinewine (UCL) and her team are rewarded with the Healthy Ageing Award for exploring the reasons behind inappropriate prescriptions and finding new methods for drug prescription that will significantly improve the correct use of drugs.

Prof. Spinewine is a professor at the Catholic University of Louvain and is a member of the Louvain Drug Research Institute. She is also the head of the clinical pharmacy department of UCL Namur University Hospital, in Godinne.

Prof. Evelien Smits

Prof. Evelien Smits


Immunotherapy Award


“Our objective is to increase the applicability of immunotherapy as a successful treatment for cancer”

Cancer immunotherapy has been a breakthrough in treating cancer. Despite this discovery, immunotherapy unfortunately has few positive effects on the majority of patients in need of new treatment options, nor does it affect many patients with types of tumors that respond well to immunotherapy

The jury decided to grant the 2017 AstraZeneca Foundation award for Oncology to Prof. Evelien Smits for her research on the development of new immunotherapeutic combination strategies to treat solid tumors and to decipher the tumor immune system to better understand immune escape mechanisms. Her research will improve the applicability of immunotherapy as a successful treatment for cancer, both in terms of the number of susceptible cancer types and the number of susceptible patients.

In addition of being team leader and co-director of the Oncology Research Center (CORE) at the University of Antwerp, Prof. Evelien Smits is a board member of the Young Belgian Academy and a member of the Cancer Immunotherapy Association. She is also appointed expert on the Superior Health Council and is the only Belgian member of the Lancet Hematology International Advisory Committee.

“Deciphering the cellular and molecular bases of human polymicrogyria”

The cerebral cortex corresponds to the external part of the brain and it plays key roles in sophisticated cognitive and perceptual abilities such as memory, awareness, language, and consciousness. The mature cerebral cortex is a layered structure resulting from the migration of temporal cohorts of neurons that are generated by cortical stem cells that divide during embryogenesis. Disrupting the birth, migration or survival of these neurons can lead to cortical malformations (MCDs) often associated with intellectual disabilities and epilepsy.

Prof. Dr. Laurent Nguyen (ULG) received the AstraZeneca Foundation Award 2014 in the research category Neurosciences and Psychiatry for the research on the pathological mechanisms triggered by the mutation of new genes associated with honopolymicrogyria. This research focuses on the cellular and molecular mechanisms that drive corticogenesis in health and disease. Current, additional research focuses on selected inheritable mutations that are tightly associated with polymicrogyria (PMGs), one prevalent MCD characterized by abnormal cortical layering with an excessive number of small and irregular gyri at the cortical surface. Various technical approaches and animal models will be combined to decipher the pathological mechanisms that underlie human PMGs. The identification of novel genes whose mutation lead to PMG is not only important for diagnosis and genetic counselling of patients and their families, but also for a better understanding of the molecular processes of cerebral cortical development.

Professor Laurent Nguyen

NS Approval ID 954614 Revision date 02/2016