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Lasker Honorees

This year's Lasker Awards are going to two trios of researchers, the New York Times reports.

The first — Dana Farber Cancer Center's William Kaelin, Peter Ratcliffe from the University of Oxford, and Gregg Semenza at Johns Hopkins University — are sharing the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award for their discovery of the pathway involved in the cellular response to changing oxygen conditions. The Times notes that Ratcliffe and Semenza independently started out studying hypoxia and homed in on the protein HIF-1 that's only around in low-oxygen conditions. Kaelin, meanwhile, was studying Von Hippel-Lindau disease in which tumors act like they are oxygen starved. He connected a VHL protein that removes hypoxia-related compounds from cells under oxygen-rich conditions to that loss of HIF-1. HIF-1 and related proteins have now been linked to a number of medical conditions and biological functions, the Times adds.

"When we started, we were focused on one gene," Semenza says. "Now, there are thousands."

The second trio — the University of Heidelberg's Ralf Bartenschlager, Rockefeller University's Charles Rice, and Michael Sofia, formerly of Pharmasset and now at Arbutus Biopharma — are sharing the Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award for their work on the hepatitis C virus. As the Wall Street Journal reports, Bartenschlager and Rice developed a way to grow the hepatitis C virus in the lab and this enabled Sofia to design and test drugs to combat the virus. He zeroed in on a nucleotide analog NS5B polymerase inhibitor drug dubbed sofosbuvir that is now the active ingredient in Gilead Sciences' Sovaldi and one of the drugs in its combination Harvoni. The Journal notes that the drug has shortened treatment time and has fewer side effects.

"It's pretty astounding to see how this drug has been able to transform people's lives and certainly really change the future for" people with hepatitis C, Sofia tells the Journal.

In addition, the University of California, San Francisco's Bruce Alberts has won a special achievement award for his work on DNA replication as well as his efforts in scientific education and his leadership of national and international scientific organizations.