Johnson & Johnson has named Dr. Jennifer Doudna of the University of California at Berkeley and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and Dr. Emmanuelle Charpentier, of the Hannover Medical School and Helmholtz Center for Infection Research (HZI), Germany and the Laboratory for Molecular Infection Medicine Sweden (MIMS), Umea University, Sweden, the winners of the 2014 Dr. Paul Janssen Award for Biomedical Research. Their collaboration led to the discovery of a new method for precisely manipulating genetic information in ways that should produce new insights in health and disease, and may lead to the discovery of new targets for drug development.
"Their discovery of this new DNA editing strategy is considered one of the most significant breakthroughs in molecular biology in the past decade," said Paul Stoffels, M.D., chief scientific officer, Johnson & Johnson. "We are pleased to be able to recognize two researchers whose insights, persistence and collaboration have led to a significant leap in our understanding and ability to manipulate genetic processes. The work of Doudna and Charpentier has the potential to make a significant impact on human health, which is the very heart of Dr. Paul's legacy, as well as our mission at Johnson & Johnson."
The Dr. Paul Janssen Award for Biomedical Research was created by Johnson & Johnson to honor Dr. Paul Janssen (1926-2003). Janssen founded Janssen Pharmaceutica, which was acquired by Johnson & Johnson in 1961. His work led to the development of more than 80 transformational medicines in several fields, including pain management, psychiatry, infectious disease and gastroenterology.
"The transformational research by Doudna and Charpentier has uncovered molecular details of an amazing bacterial immunity mechanism. Their findings enable dramatic improvements in the speed, efficiency and flexibility of genome editing," said Dr. Craig Mello, professor of Molecular Medicine, University of Massachusetts Medical School and investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and chair of the Dr. Paul Janssen Award independent selection committee. "It is widely applicable in biomedical research and its practical applications extend to engineering the genes of plants and animals."
Doudna, Charpentier and their colleagues determined that Cas9—an enzyme specialized for cutting DNA—can be programmed with single RNA molecules to cleave specific DNA sites, creating a simple and versatile system for genome targeting and editing. This new understanding enables researchers to rapidly model human disease alleles in the laboratory, speeding the search for new drug leads and opening new doors for the treatment of human genetic disorders.
The winners of the Dr. Paul Janssen Award for Biomedical Research are chosen by an independent selection committee of the world's most renowned scientists. The award includes a $100,000 prize, shared by the two winners.