Cathy Wu, MD, wins prestigious Sjöberg Prize for cancer vaccine research

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Catherine J. Wu, MD, of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute has been awarded the Sjöberg Prize today for her pioneering research in the field of personalized vaccines to treat cancer. Established in 2017, the Sjöberg Prize is awarded annually in partnership between the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and the Sjöberg Foundation to a person or persons who have made decisive contributions to cancer research.

Wu has focused her research on small mutations in cancer cells, which give rise to tumor neoantigens. These neoantigens are structures that the immune system's T cells can recognize as foreign and attack. By sequencing DNA from healthy cells and cancer cells, Wu and her colleagues were able to identify a cancer patient's unique tumor neoantigens. She then produced synthetic copies of these, which were injected as a type of vaccine. For some of the patients, this resulted in the immune system’s cells being activated and targeting the tumor cells.

Wu's breakthrough results were published in an article in Nature in 2017, which describes an initial trial in which six patients with melanoma were vaccinated with patient-specific neoantigens. Since then, Wu and other researchers have continued to further develop personalized cancer vaccines.

The Foundation noted that, in a not-too-distant future, vaccines of this type could be offered to a large group of patients with types of cancers that are currently difficult or impossible to cure.

"Catherine Wu has been enormously important in moving forward research in this field. She has played a decisive role in making it possible to conduct clinical trials of cancer vaccines for melanoma (skin cancer), pancreatic cancer, and lung cancer," says Urban Lendahl, Professor of Genetics at Karolinska Institutet and Secretary of the Prize Committee.

"I'm a strong supporter and believer in innovation that comes from academic medicine. To be able to support risk-taking and trying to generate new and disruptive findings, ones that can help build and be impactful for patient care, I think that’s where we hope the support from this prize can go," says Wu. "I appreciate the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and the Sjöberg Foundation for recognizing me, but this award also recognizes strong team science and collaboration that has really altered the treatment landscapes for patients. This is something we have developed together, as a group."

The award amounts to $100,000 as a personal prize and $900,000 as funding for continued research. The Sjöberg Prize 2024 will be presented by the king Carl XVI Gustaf at the Academy's Annual Meeting on April 12.

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Catherine Wu, MD