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DNA idea wins $1m US cancer prize

April 01, 2008

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WASHINGTON: A researcher who hopes to design new cancer drugs based on the DNA missing from tumour cells has won a $1 million prize aimed to encourage innovative new cancer treatments.

The first annual Gotham Prize for Cancer Research went to Alexander Varshavsky, the Smits Professor of Cell Biology at California Institute of Technology, the organisers of the prize have announced.

“His idea stood out because it was truly a novel approach to cancer therapy,” said Dr Gary Curhan of Harvard Medical School, who teamed up with two hedge fund managers to develop the prize.

“Many of the current treatments have potential side effects and are not specific to the cancer. The one that he is proposing is very specific and has the potential to have few side-effects or even none,” Curhan said.Last May, Curhan joined hedge fund managers Joel Greenblatt and Robert Goldstein of private investment firm Gotham Capital to announce they had established a “club”, website and a cash prize at http://www.gothamprize.org/.

They said federal funding of cancer research has been flat, and the system of seeking money to do research is based around pleasing either National Institutes of Health supervisors or gatekeepers at the advocacy organizations that pay for research on specific types of cancer.

“We believe that making progress in cancer research means sharing ideas and encouraging out-of-the-box thinking,” said Greenblatt.

Varshavsky proposed an idea he called deletion-specific targeting, based on DNA that is missing from tumour cells but found in normal healthy cells.

“(It) involves, in a nutshell, the finding of a genuine Achilles Heel of cancer cells, i.e., their potentially vulnerable feature that won’t change during tumour progression,” Varshavsky said in a statement.—Reuters