What Merits a Lasker Award?
This year's Lasker Awards are a tribute to the complex sociology of modern science. The Basic Award is given to three scientistsone born in Hungary, one born in Israel, and one born in Russia. Their monumental discovery highlights the international scope and collaborative nature of science. The Clinical Award honors a scientist from a company, Chiron Corp., and a scientist from a federal research institute, the NIH, for their discovery of the hepatitis C virus and its elimination from the blood supply. This award illustrates the increasing importance of collaboration between the Biotechnology Industry and the traditional research enterprise. This is the first time that a Lasker prize has recognized the Biotechnology Industry. The Special Achievement Award is given to a scientist whom many believe to be the most influential biologist of the last five decades. This award illustrates the role of unrestrained creativity in driving scientific discovery.
So today, we celebrate collaboration, biotechnology, and creativity. Behind each award is a wonderful story that you will soon hear about.
The Lasker Basic Science Award will be presented by Michael Brown, Professor of Molecular Genetics and Medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. Mike is a former recipient of the Lasker Basic Award, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, and the National Medical of Science, presented to him by President Reagan in 1988. Mike and I have been working together for 30 years, struggling to solve the mysteries of cholesterol and how it produces heart attacks. We're not as quick as Watson and Crick, who solved their problem in two years. The Watson-Crick partnership may be more famous, but ours is the most long-lived. The high point of our collaboration is Mike's not-so-subtle humor and his fertile imagination, which you'll witness in a moment. The low point is that people are always getting us mixed up. They call me "Joe."
The Lasker Clinical Award will be presented by Leon Rosenberg, Professor of Molecular Biology at Princeton University. Leon is one of those rare birds who have experienced biomedical science at all levels: as a practicing pediatrician and geneticist; as a physician-scientist who discovered the molecular basis of several genetic diseases; as the Dean of the School of Medicine at Yale; and as the head of pharmaceutical research at Bristol-Myers-Squibb. If there is a single theme to his career, it is the role of physician-scientists in translating basic discoveries into real medicines. In a recent article in Science, Leon documented the decline in the number of physician-scientists and pointed out the dangerous consequences for clinical medicine. Leon has been a dedicated member of the Lasker Jury who reminds us repeatedly of the importance to science of careful clinical observation of patients and their diseases.
I will present the Lasker Special Achievement Award.