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Institute for Research in Biomedicine
Istituto di Ricerca in Biomedicina

Via Vincenzo Vela 6 - CH-6500 Bellinzona
Tel. +41 91 820 0300 - Fax +41 91 820 0302 - info [at] irb [dot] usi [dot] ch

Pfizer Prize 2020, awards for IRB and IOR researchers in neurology and oncology

on Friday, February 7, 2020

The awards for the 29th Pfizer Prize for Research were given on Thursday, February 6, 2020 in Zurich. Among the winners were Daniela Latorre, former researcher at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB) and currently researcher at ETH Zurich, and Arianna Calcinotto of the Institute of Oncological Research (IOR), both Institutes affiliated to the Faculty of Biomedical Sciences at the Università della Svizzera italiana.

The Pfizer Prize for Research, one of the most prestigious in the field of medical research in Switzerland, is awarded each by the Stiftung Pfizer Forschungspreis to nineteen young researchers who have distinguished themselves for their work in institutes or hospitals in the country. This year's prize, worth a total of 150.000 CHF, is an important acknowledgement of their achievements and encourages them to continue their studies in their respective fields (paediatrics; cardiovascular system and urology; infectivology, rheumatology, immunology; neuroscience and nervous system diseases; oncology).

Two researchers associated to USI were on stage in Zurich to collect their respective awards. For "Neuroscience and Nervous System Diseases", the award was assigned for the study on narcolepsy conducted extensively at the IRB by Dr. Daniela Latorre, currently a researcher at the ETH Zurich, and at the University of Bern by Dr. med. Ulf Kallweit, now researcher at Witten/Herdecke University. Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder that affects one in 2000 people in the population. It depends on genetic and environmental factors and is caused by the loss in the brain of certain neurons that produce a neurotransmitter called hypocretin. The study of the two researchers found the existence in patients suffering from narcolepsy of T lymphocytes (cells of the immune system) that recognize hypocretin and that can directly or indirectly kill the neurons that produce it. This observation represents the first direct evidence that narcolepsy is an autoimmune disease and opens new avenues for early diagnosis and treatment of this disease.

Daniela has also received the PRIMA support from the Swiss National Science Foundation, which enables her to start an independent career at the ETH Zurich and continue her research on the Guillain-Barré Syndrome with her team. Her studies have already brought her other awards in the past, such as the "Best publication in Basic Sleep Research" awarded by the Swiss Society for sleep Research, Sleep Medicin and Chronobiology in 2019 or the "Young Scientist Award" awarded the same year by the European Narcolepsy Network.

For "Oncology", the prize was conferred to Dr. Arianna Calcinotto, researcher at the IOR and project head on an innovative methodology to combat the evolution of prostate cancer. Treatments for prostate cancer usually fail with the development of resistance to therapy, a condition known as castration-resistant prostate cancer (CRPC), one of the most common causes of mortality related to this disease. The IOR research group has investigated the role of immune cells in the development of this specific stage of resistance to this common disease. Working with researchers in the UK and Italy, they have discovered high levels of the interleukin-23 protein (IL-23) in the blood and tumors of most patients resistant to antiandrogenic therapy, noting also that the release of IL-23 in the tumor is caused by a particular type of immune cells (called myeloid cells), which make it resistant to treatment allowing the survival and proliferation of prostate cancer cells. This discovery paves the way for further clinical studies to identify the antibody capable of selectively blocking IL-23.

Arianna has already received further awards for its research last year, such as the PCF Young Investigator Award for the study on the impact that sets of intestinal microorganisms may have on CPRC progression.

The Pfizer Foundation Research Prize

Awarded annually, since 1992, the Stiftung Pfizer Forschungspreis awards young researchers for their innovative contributions to basic and clinical research at institutes or clinics in Switzerland. With over 5.7 million Swiss francs awarded to over 300 researchers, the prize is one of the most prestigious awards in the field of medical research in Switzerland. www.pfizerforschungspreis.ch