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2025 Harrington Prize for Innovation in Medicine

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March 19, 2024

International Harrington Prize Awarded to Dr. Arlene Sharpe

The eleventh annual Harrington Prize for Innovation in Medicine has been awarded to Arlene H. Sharpe, MD, PhD, Kolokotrones University Professor and Chair of the Department of Immunology at Harvard Medical School. The award recognizes her breakthrough discoveries in immune regulation, which have established foundational principles in immunology and led to new cancer therapies that act by boosting the immune response to cancer.

The Harrington Prize for Innovation in Medicine, established in 2014 by the Harrington Discovery Institute at University Hospitals and the American Society for Clinical Investigation (ASCI), honors physician-scientists who have moved science forward with achievements notable for innovation, creativity and potential for clinical application.

Dr. Sharpe's research in immunology has led to significant advances in medical treatments. Her work helped identify key pathways that restrain the activity of T lymphocytes (immune cells) to fight cancer. Her work defined the PD-1 pathway and its immunoinhibitory functions as well as the inhibitory functions of CTLA-4 to restrain the activity of the immune system.

Dr. Sharpe's research thus laid the foundation for the development of ‘immune checkpoint inhibitors’, drugs that target PD-1 and related pathways. These therapies, including pembrolizumab and nivolumab, have been approved by the FDA for treating numerous types of cancer. They work by preventing inhibition of T cell function, thereby unleashing the body's immune system to fight cancer cells more effectively. This approach has become a cornerstone in cancer treatment strategies.

“Dr. Sharpe’s body of work has shaped our understanding of the role of the T cell in regulating the immune response. Her innovative scientific discoveries are among the best examples of bench-to-bedside work in the past three decades,” said Benjamin D. Humphreys, MD, PhD, Joseph Friedman Professor of Renal Diseases in Medicine and Chief, Division of Nephrology, Washington University in St. Louis and 2023-2024 President of the ASCI.

“Immune checkpoint inhibitors are drugs that allow for dramatic remission, and even cures, of cancers that had previously been considered untreatable. Dr. Sharpe’s foundational insights have thus been harnessed to transform cancer therapy. Her work provides a beautiful example of physician impact through creative science,” said Jonathan S. Stamler, MD, President, Harrington Discovery Institute, Robert S. and Sylvia K. Reitman Family Foundation Distinguished Professor of Cardiovascular Innovation and Professor of Medicine and of Biochemistry at University Hospitals and Case Western Reserve University.

A committee composed of members of the ASCI Council and the Harrington Discovery Institute Scientific Advisory Board reviewed nominations from leading academic medical centers globally before selecting the 2024 Harrington Prize recipient.

In addition to sharing the Prize’s $20,000 honorarium, Dr. Sharpe will deliver the Harrington Prize Lecture at the 2024 AAP/ASCI/APSA Joint Meeting on April 5, will be a featured speaker at the 2024 Harrington Scientific Symposium May 22-23, and will publish an essay in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

The Harrington Prize has recognized outstanding and diverse innovations in medicine:

  • 2014: Harry Dietz, MD, Johns Hopkins University, for his contributions to the understanding of the biology and treatment of Marfan syndrome, a disorder leading to deadly aneurysms in children and adults.
  • 2015: Douglas R. Lowy, MD, The National Cancer Institute, in recognition of his discoveries that led to the development of the Human Papillomavirus vaccine to prevent cervical cancer.
  • 2016: Jeffrey M. Friedman, MD, PhD, The Rockefeller University, for his discovery of leptin, which controls feeding behavior and is used to treat related clinical disorders.
  • 2017: Jointly awarded to Daniel J. Drucker, MD, Mount Sinai Hospital, Canada, Joel F. Habener, MD, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Jens J. Holst, MD, DMSc, University of Copenhagen, Denmark, for their discovery of incretin hormones and for the translation of these findings into transformative therapies for major metabolic diseases such as diabetes.
  • 2018: Helen H. Hobbs, MD, UT Southwestern Medical Center, for the discovery of the link between a gene mutation (PCSK9) and lower levels of LDL, which has improved the treatment of high cholesterol.
  • 2019: Carl H. June, MD, University of Pennsylvania, for advancing the clinical application of CAR T therapy for cancer treatment, and for his sustained contributions to the field of cellular immunology.
  • 2020: Stuart H. Orkin, MD, Harvard University, for breakthrough discoveries on red blood cells that offer new treatments for patients with sickle cell disease and beta-thalassemia, which are among the most common genetic disorders.
  • 2021: Warren J. Leonard, MD, and John J. O’Shea, MD, NIH, for their respective contributions to the field of immunology, from fundamental discovery to therapeutic impact.
  • 2022: James E. Crowe Jr., MD, and Michel C. Nussenzweig, MD, PhD, for their groundbreaking work, which has elucidated fundamental principles of the human immune response and enabled the use of human antibodies to treat COVID-19.
  • 2023: Jean Bennett, MD, PhD, and Albert M. Maguire, MD, for their groundbreaking translational research to restore sight in inherited genetic diseases.

About the Scholar

Arlene Sharpe

Arlene Sharpe, MD, PhD

The Harrington Prize for Innovation in Medicine

More about Arlene Sharpe

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