Brian Druker, MD, is this year’s winner of the August M. Watanabe Prize in Translational Research and will be honored at the virtual 2020 Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences (CTSI) Annual Meeting on Friday, September 11. He is currently the director of the Knight Cancer Institute at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU).
“I am honored to receive the 2020 Watanabe Prize from the Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute,” said Druker, who is also the Associate Dean for Oncology at OHSU School of Medicine. “Our need to translate research from the lab to the clinic has never been more important and I am grateful for the opportunity to share our work on improving the lives of patients with cancer.”
Druker was nominated for his pioneering work in precision medicine and targeted cancer therapies. He started his research on leukemia cells in the 1980’s and moved to OHSU in 1993, where he started testing compounds that could target the abnormality that drives chronic myeloid leukemia, or CML.
He identified a compound that became known as Gleevec®, and led clinical studies about the drug’s efficacy. Druker found that 98 percent of patients who used it saw their white blood cell counts return to normal within weeks, with few or no side effects. The studies were so successful that they received the fastest FDA approval in history. Patients in the original studies, some who were told they had just weeks or months to live, recovered and started leading normal lives.
“This was the first example of a truly targeted therapy for cancer and one in which the therapy is spectacularly successful,” said IU School of Medicine Dean Jay L. Hess, MD, PhD, who nominated Druker. “In addition to saving countless lives, the success in targeted therapy for CML has reinvigorated targeted therapy research for many types of cancers.”
In 2017, the New England Journal of Medicine published long-term results of Gleevec® for patients with CML. The study followed more than 1,100 patients with leukemia around the world for more than 10 years and found a survival rate of nearly 90 percent. Gleevec® is now FDA approved to treat six different types of cancers.
Druker has continued to be a leader in the field of personalized medicine. He was instrumental in raising more than $1 billion to fund research through the OHSU Knight Cancer Challenge. Druker also still takes time to teach and mentor junior physicians and scientists.
As winner of the Watanabe Prize, Druker will be the featured speaker at the 2020 Indiana CTSI Annual Meeting. He will also serve as a mentor to two young investigators, who will give presentations during the meeting.