Toronto, April 30, 2008 – His outstanding genetic research is deepening our understanding of the human genome and disease. Her track record in clinical trials has led to improved prognoses for lung cancer patients worldwide.

Two Toronto researchers at the top of their fields – molecular biologist Dr. Stephen Scherer and physician-scientist Dr. Frances Shepherd – are the 2008 recipients of Canada’s richest prizes awarded in medical research. The Premier’s Summit Award for Medical Research, providing $5 million over five years to each winner, was among a suite of innovation awards conferred last night at a gala dinner at the MaRS Centre.

Dr. Scherer, Senior Scientist at The Hospital for Sick Children and Professor at the University of Toronto, leads one of world’s busiest laboratories. He is known for his work with Craig Venter’s team on the Human Genome Project and for co-discovering the phenomena of global copy number alterations of DNA and genes as the most common type of genetic variation. His group has also discovered numerous disease susceptibility genes and most recently has defined genetic factors underlying autism spectrum disorder.

Dr. Scherer has won numerous awards, including the prestigious Steacie Prize in the Natural Sciences, Canada’s Top 40 Under 40, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Scholarship. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, Scholar of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, Council Member of the Human Genome Organization (HUGO) and Chair of Genome Canada’s Science and Industry Advisory Board.

Dr. Frances Shepherd is an award-winning researcher, senior staff physician and Group Leader for the Lung Cancer site at Princess Margaret Hospital, University Health Network. In 2001, she was named the Scott Taylor Chair in Lung Cancer Research, becoming the first holder of this esteemed research position with a primary goal of investigating new options for lung cancer therapy. She is also Professor of Medicine at the University of Toronto.

Author of more than 290 publications and 35 book chapters, Dr. Shepherd has been the co-investigator or principal investigator in more than 80 clinical trials since 1982. In 2002, for example, she was part of a team at Princess Margaret Hospital credited with the first identification of gene clusters involved in lung cancer using microarray technology and has been instrumental in establishing lung cancer tumour banks. She has also led a number of trials that have changed treatment for patients with lung cancer worldwide. Among her many awards and accolades, she was the recipient of the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer Research Award in 2007, as well as the Order of Ontario in 2007.

The Premier’s Summit Awards – established in 2007 – are designed to help attract and retain leading researchers in Ontario. Each recipient will receive $5 million over a five-year period, derived from a $2.5 million contribution from the Award program matched by $2.5 million from the sponsoring institution. MaRS administers the Summit Awards on behalf of the Province of Ontario.

“These awards celebrate both the achievements of two outstanding individuals and what these achievements stand for – remarkable creativity, unalloyed excellence and an exceptional investment in our future as a knowledge-intensive economy,” said MaRS Chair Dr. John Evans.  “They are a key component of a cohesive Ontario Innovation Agenda (announced yesterday), focusing on areas of excellence in research and commercialization.”

Dr. Evans also chairs the international selection committee for the Awards with:

  • Sir John Bell, Nuffield Professor of Clinical Medicine and Regius Professor of Medicine, University of Oxford
  • Dr. David Colman, Director, Montreal Neurological Institute
  • Dr. Brett Finlay, Peter Wall Distinguished Professor, Michael Smith Laboratories, University of British Columbia
  • Dr. Suzanne Fortier, President, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada
  • Dr. Henry Friesen, former President of the Medical Research Council of Canada, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Faculty of Medicine, University of Manitoba
  • Sir Keith Peters, Regius Professor of Physic and head of the University’s School of Clinical Medicine, University of Cambridge
  • Dr. Phillip A. Sharp, Institute Professor, Center for Cancer Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine, 1993

Science at the Summit

Join us to learn more about the impact of medical discoveries on health outcomes at “Science at the Summit” – a free panel discussion to be recorded by CBC Radio’s Ideas – on Tuesday May 27, noon-2 p.m. at the MaRS Centre, 101 College St. with Summit award winners past and present, moderated by University of Toronto President Dr. David Naylor.

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