Stephen L. Hauser, MD, director of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF)‘s Weill Institute for Neurosciences, has been awarded the 2017 Taubman Prize for Excellence in Translational Medical Research.
Recognized for scientific work that challenged the way multiple sclerosis (MS) is regarded, Hauser’s discoveries have opened new therapeutic avenues for highly effective treatments for this severe chronic illness.
Each year, the A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute announces the clinician-scientist who will receive the $100,000 Taubman Prize in recognition for efforts in transforming research discoveries into clinical application for those suffering with diseases. A U.S. panel of renowned medical science experts selected Hauser, who is professor and chair of the Department of Neurology at UCSF, from dozens of nominees.
“We salute Dr. Hauser for his persistence and original thinking about the causes and treatments of this life-altering disease,” said Eva L. Feldman, MD, PhD, director of the Taubman Institute, in a press release.
“He exemplifies the brilliant and devoted physician-researcher who is motivated by concern for his patients to spend years, even decades in the lab seeking novel treatments that will bring new hope to millions of people worldwide,” Feldman said.
For protection and normal functioning, nerve cells have what is known as a myelin layer covering them. In MS, this layer is destroyed due to an uncontrolled attack by immune cells. This will impair nerves cells’ activity, leading to symptoms such as visual impairment, weakness, numbness, and loss of coordination.
Hauser and his collaborators demonstrated that immune cells called B-cells were the ones orchestrating the myelin attack. Throughout his research, Hauser and his team focused on revealing the molecular details of this theory, and also tested potential drugs that could target B-cells.
Clinical trial results on one of these potential MS drugs showed beneficial effects. These findings proved in a clinical setting that Hauser’s hypothesis not only was correct, but also that targeting-B cells could be an effective strategy to treat MS.
Based on these data and additional studies, the pharmaceutical company Genentech, a member of the Roche Group, developed Ocrevus (ocrelizumab), an antibody that depletes B-cells and prevents them from doing harm. In March 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Ocrevus as the first treatment for relapsing and primary progressive MS.
Hauser will accept the award and address the public during the annual symposium of the Taubman Institute, taking place Oct. 20 at the A. Alfred Taubman Biomedical Science Research Building, University of Michigan.