Blood cancers

Haematologist wins Australia’s most prestigious life science prize

Haematologist Professor Mark Dawson has been named as Life Scientist of the Year in the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science.

Professor Dawson was awarded the prestigious Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year in a ‘virtual’ awards ceremony in recognition of his pioneering research in the field of epigenetics and blood cancers.

Professor Dawson is a clinician-scientist at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, where he is the program head of the Translational Haematology Program, Group leader of the Cancer Epigenetics Laboratory and Consultant Haematologist in the Department of Haematology.

The citation for his award states that Professor Dawson’s research has provided the molecular evidence for several novel, first-in-class epigenetics-based cancer therapies.

“These breakthroughs have allowed clinicians, for the first time, to precisely target epigenetic pathways for improved treatment of people with cancer. This provides patients with access to potentially life extending novel therapies,” it says.

“Professor Dawson’s first fundamental finding was the landmark discovery that kinases … could act within a cell’s nucleus to directly modify chromatin; altering transcription and contributing to the development of cancerous tumours.

“This major conceptual advance has been subsequently demonstrated for a number of signalling kinases, including across diverse fields, such as cancer, inflammation and metabolism.”

“His subsequent work helped establish the paradigm of targeting epigenetic readers as a novel therapeutic strategy in cancer.

The award also notes that Professor Dawson’s research into bromodomain and extra-terminal (BET) protein regulation of malignant gene expression (and how that could be inhibited) broke new ground and established this class of molecule as a therapeutic target for cancer therapy.

“This pioneering work ignited drug discovery and development programs in several international pharmaceutical companies, with several BET inhibitors now in clinical development in Phase 1 and 2 trials.”

“His development of novel cancer therapeutics has expanded into the research of cutting-edge technologies to advance capabilities in preclinical drug discovery. This includes an innovative approach to allow real-time evaluation of drug kinetics in live systems, which is recognised as paradigm-shifting by world leaders in the field

Peter Mac Executive Director of Cancer Research Professor Ricky Johnstone described Professor Dawson as a “rare talent in Australian life sciences, with an outstanding track record of translating fundamental scientific discoveries into changes to clinical practice”.

“Professor Dawson has revolutionised the field of epigenetics in cancer, and in the development of improved treatment of people with cancer,” he said.

“He is an absolute global leader by any metric or criteria.”

Professor Andrew Roberts, Cancer Theme Leader at The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research said: “any one of Professor Dawson’s achievements should be considered outstanding on their own. That by mid-career he has made such significant contributions is truly exceptional.”

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