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Richard A. Lerner Wins Prince of Asturias Award
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Richard A. Lerner Wins Prince of Asturias Award

Scripps Research Institute Professor Richard A. Lerner has won a prestigious international honor, the Prince of Asturias Award for Scientific and Technical Research, according to an announcement made May 31, 2012 by the Prince of Asturias Foundation. Lerner shares the award with British biochemist Sir Gregory Winter.

Sometimes called the “Spanish Nobel Prize,” the Prince of Asturias Award for Scientific and Technical Research is bestowed for findings that “represent a significant contribution to the progress and welfare of mankind.” Winners receive 50,000 Euros (about $62,000), a diploma, an insignia bearing the foundation’s coat of arms, and a sculpture specially created for the awards by the late Spanish artist Joan Miró.

“This honor for Richard is richly deserved,” said Scripps Research President and CEO Michael A. Marletta. “His discoveries have had a very significant impact on the treatment of disease and I am delighted that this recognition has come to him.”

“It is my honor to accept this prestigious award together with Sir Greg,” said Lerner, “This is a wonderful recognition for the field of immunochemistry and combinatorial antibody libraries and all that they have contributed to human health.”

The announcement of the jury was broadcast live from Oviedo, Spain, to more than 150 countries at noon, local time.

The foundation’s statement reads, “The researchers Gregory Winter and Richard A. Lerner stand at the forefront of research on the immune system. The advances in the use of antibodies as therapeutic tools have provided new ways of preventing and treating immune disorders, degenerative diseases and different types of tumours. In many cases, the use of antibodies has alleviated the suffering of patients and has halted the progression of the disease. These researchers have managed to create a synthetic immune system in the test tube, as well as demonstrating its preventive and therapeutic potential due to exceeding the natural antibody repertoire the human body can generate.”

This work has resulted in two drugs currently on the market, as well as other compounds currently in clinical trials. The drug Humira® (adalimumab), marketed by Abbott, provides a treatment for inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and plaque psoriasis. Humira® is now reported to be the top selling drug in the world.

Benlysta® (belimumab), which was developed by GlaxoSmithKline and Human Genome Sciences, was approved in the United States for the treatment of the most common type of lupus—a chronic, life-threatening autoimmune disease—in the spring of last year. At that time, Benlysta® became the first new drug for lupus in 50 years.

41 Nominations

This year, 41 nominations from Argentina, Bulgaria, Canada, Costa Rica, Cuba, France, Germany, Holland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States and Spain were in the running for the Prince of Asturias Award for Scientific and Technical Research. This prize is the fourth of eight awards bestowed each year by the Prince of Asturias Foundation. The others are in the fields of the arts, communications and humanities, literature, sports, social sciences, international cooperation, and concord (peace).

The Prince of Asturias Foundation was founded in the city of Oviedo on September 24, 1980, at a formal ceremony presided over by His Royal Highness the Prince of Asturias, heir to the throne of Spain, who was accompanied by his parents, Their Majesties the King and Queen of Spain.

The essential aims of the foundation are to consolidate links between the principality and the Prince of Asturias, and to contribute to encouraging and promoting the scientific, cultural, and humanistic values that form part of mankind’s universal heritage.

The awards will be presented in the autumn in Oviedo at a grand ceremony chaired by H.R.H. the Prince of Asturias. For more information on the awards, see the foundation website at .

Richard A. Lerner

Richard Alan Lerner (Chicago, USA, 1938) studied medicine at Northwestern University and Stanford, earning his MD at the latter in 1964. Following internship at the Palo Alto Stanford Hospital in 1965, he began his career in research and teaching in the Department of Experimental Pathology at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla (California), an institution that he led from 1986 to 2012. He is currently the Lita Annenberg Hazen Professor of Immunochemistry in the Department of Molecular Biology and a member of the Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology at Scripps Research.

Lerner was the architect of the most important advance since the discovery of monoclonal antibodies a quarter century ago: the conception, design and creation of combinatorial antibody libraries, currently the most widely used of all libraries in the field of biochemistry and which enabled a broadening of the scope of action of the immune system. Lerner set the stage in an article published in Science in 1989 and all the advances produced in the change in combinatorial libraries derived directly or indirectly from this article. Furthermore, in 1991, Lerner identified the essence of the production of antibodies without immunization and his method has remained the most efficient way to produce fully human antibodies. Moreover, Lerner has been a pioneer in the development of what are known as catalytic antibodies, a strategy to accelerate and catalyse chemical reactions for which traditional methods are not efficient.

Author of more than 400 scientific papers, Lerner holds honorary degrees from seven universities in Europe and America. Among other awards, he has received the Wolf Prize in Chemistry (Israel, 1995), the William B. Coley Award from the Cancer Research Institute (USA, 1999) and the Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize (Germany, 2003), as well as membership in the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

For more information on Lerner and his work, see his Scripps Research faculty page at

Sir Gregory Winter

Sir Gregory Winter (UK, 1951) studied Natural Sciences at Trinity College, Cambridge and undertook his PhD studies at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) at the Medical Research Council (MRC), an institution of which he has been deputy director. He was appointed Master of Trinity College in 2011 and is due to take office in July 2012.

Within the LMB, Winter has been one of the leading biochemists in innovative techniques for creating monoclonal therapeutic antibodies and one of the pioneers in the development of techniques for the humanization of these antibodies, a key step for the human immune system not to identify them as foreign agents. He holds numerous patents and, in addition to being scientific advisor to several genetic engineering firms, was the founder in 1989 of Cambridge Antibody Technology, a biotechnology company promoted by the LMB to market these antibodies, including adalimumab for treating rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease. He also founded the companies Domantis in 2000 and Bicycle Therapeutics in 2009.

Commander of the British Empire and a Fellow of The Royal Society, the Academy of Medical Sciences of the United Kingdom, the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering and the Swedish Academy of Engineering Science, Winter has received the Louis Jeantet Prize for Medicine (Switzerland, 1989), the Emil von Behring Prize (Germany, 1990), the Milan Award (Italy, 1990), the Scheele Award of the Swedish Academy of Pharmaceutical Sciences (1994), the King Faisal International Prize in Medicine (Saudi Arabia, 1995), the Biochemical Society Award (UK, 2006) and the BioIndustry Association Award (UK, 2008), among other distinctions.

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“This is a wonderful recognition for the field of immunochemistry and combinatorial antibody libraries and all that they have contributed to human health,” says Professor Richard A. Lerner.




Among the extensive international coverage of the award is this Spanish-language footage of the announcement by RTVE.