"Father of targeted therapies" receives top U.S. award

Alex Matter, known as the "Father of Targeted Cancer Therapies", was granted Friday the eighth Szent-Gyorgyi Prize for Progress in Cancer Research at an award ceremony in Washington.

Matter, CEO of the Experimental Therapeutic Center of Agency for Science, Technology and Research in Singapore, has been recognized for his contributions to the development of the first drug specifically targeting a molecular lesion in cancer.

The first targeted cancer therapy, imatinib mesylate, or Gleevec, contributed to a major breakthrough in the treatment of Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML). It has then been its successfully applied to other malignant cancers by turning off the signal of the protein causing these cancers.

With Gleevec, the outcome of treating CML has been changed from the dismal and often deadly to a nearly 90 percent long-term survival with little or no side effects.

"Matter's work on Gleevec marked a dramatic change in cancer therapy," said chair of the 2013 Prize Selection Committee Chen Zhu, who is also a vice chairperson of China's National People's Congress Standing Committee, "This was the first successful knowledge-based discovery of small molecule drug that targeted a cancer-specific protein."

Matter's "innovative research and scientific discovery has led us to a new stage of effectively treating and eventually curing cancer," said Chen, who is also chairman of Chinese Medical Association.

"Tonight, I'm a happy man," said Matter while receiving the prize. He said Gleevec now saves countless people worldwide each year, but there is still much to discover before we can claim victory. "The war against cancer is far from over," he cautioned.

The Szent-Gyorgyi Prize for Progress in Cancer Research was established by the U.S. National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR) in honor of its co-founder Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, recipient of the 1937 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine.

Chen and his mentor and colleague Wang Zhenyi were granted the seventh Szent-Gyorgyi Prize in 2012 for their innovative research that led to a new therapeutic approach to acute promyelocytic leukemia.