picture of Owen Witte

The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) announced today that Dr. Owen Witte, the founding director of the Eli & Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine & Stem Cell Research at UCLA, will receive the prestigious G.H.A. Clowes Memorial Award.

Witte is being recognized for his many contributions to the understanding of human leukemias, immune disorders and the stem cells involved in the formation of epithelial cancers (cancers of the lining of glands or organs such as the prostate or ovaries). His pioneering work laid the foundation for several approved targeted cancer therapies, transforming the lives of patients with Philadelphia chromosome-positive leukemias and B-Cell malignancies. Witte’s research was key to the development of the drug Imatinib (Gleevec®), the first targeted therapy for chronic myeloid leukemia.

Witte will receive the award on April 20 at the AACR’s annual meeting in Philadelphia.

“I have enjoyed the opportunity to work closely with many distinguished colleagues across the country through initiatives where the AACR has taken scientific leadership,” said Witte, who is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. “With any disease as complex as cancer, it takes more than one individual or single lab to make significant advancements; through the combination of technical resources and the collaborative approaches the AACR has spearheaded, we’re taking a team approach to defeat cancer.”

Since 2011, Witte has served on President Obama’s Cancer Panel, which monitors the development and execution of the National Cancer Program. Witte is also an AACR Academy fellow, an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine, a UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center member and a professor of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics at UCLA.

Witte’s research led to the discovery of Bruton's tyrosine kinase, a protein essential for immune function that, when mutated, causes the onset of immunodeficiency disease. This finding resulted in a targeted therapy for several types of leukemia and lymphoma with drugs like Ibrutinib. He is currently working on defining the stem cells for epithelial cancers of the prostate and other organs to help define new and more effective therapies.

The drive to understand the cells in which cancers and leukemias originate sparked Witte’s focus on stem cell research. He hopes that research coming out of the Broad Stem Cell Research Center will change the understanding of many human maladies and that the discoveries will result in new treatments for lethal diseases.

Each AACR Clowes Memorial Award recipient is first nominated by their peers and then considered by an award selection committee appointed by the president of the AACR.

Witte will present his lecture, “Finding Therapeutic Targets for Aggressive Prostate Cancer,” Monday, April 20, 5:30 p.m. EST, in the Grand Ballroom of the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

The AACR and Eli Lilly and Company established the G.H.A. Clowes Memorial Award in 1961 to honor Dr. G.H.A. Clowes, a founding member of the AACR and research director at Eli Lilly. This award recognizes an individual with outstanding recent accomplishments in basic cancer research.

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