Cambridge cancer pioneer wins $200k Heineken Prize
The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences has awarded the 2016 Dr A.H. Heineken Prize for Medicine worth $200,000 to Steve Jackson, Professor of Biology at the University of Cambridge.
He has been honoured for his fundamental research into DNA repair in human cells and for the successful application of knowledge of that process in the development of new cancer drugs.
DNA molecules in our cells are continuously being damaged. Healthy cells can signal such damage and trigger various repair mechanisms, such as a mechanism that reconnects broken DNA strands.
Jackson investigated how cells know what type of repair is needed and what signal is given to start the correct repair process. Moreover, he successfully applied that knowledge in medical research.
In cancer cells, one or more DNA repair methods are often defective. Consequently, they cannot be properly controlled. Jackson explores mechanisms of DNA repair and looks for new drugs that kill cancer cells by breaking down their recovery capacity even further.
He exploits a concept called ‘synthetic lethality’. It is now clear that this concept has potential. In 2014, a new drug became available to treat a certain type of ovarian cancer. Clinical application trials for other cancer types are in progress.
In 1987, he was awarded a PhD for molecular biology research at the University of Edinburgh, after which he moved to Berkeley, California. Jackson returned to the UK after four years.
In Cambridge, he took up a position at the Wellcome Trust and Cancer Research UK Institute, which is part of the University of Cambridge. In 2004, the institute was renamed ‘The Gurdon Institute’. He has also been an Associate Faculty with the Sanger Institute in Hinxton since 2012.
Jackson’s two hundred research articles have been referred to on more than thirty thousand occasions.
In addition to being a researcher, Jackson is also an entrepreneur. In 1997, he set up KuDOS Pharmaceuticals to apply his DNA repair knowledge to new cancer drugs.
In 2011, together with private investors, Jackson set up a second company, MISSION Therapeutics, to apply his knowledge to more cancer drugs.