Roche wins drug discovery award for Gazyvaro

Roche has been named the winner of the 2015 Drug Discover of the Year award by the British Pharmacological Society (BPS) for its leukaemia medicine Gazyvaro.

Gazyvaro (obinutuzumab), marketed as Gazyva outside the EU, is the first in a new class of antibody drugs that treat chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) by attacking cells both directly and together with the immune system.

“The British Pharmacological Society’s Drug Discovery of the Year award recognises the deep understanding of the pharmacology of obinutuzumab that was demonstrated by the team at Roche at every stage of the drug’s development: from the first study in humans through to larger clinical trials,” says Professor Humphrey Rang, president of the British Pharmacological Society.

“There have been major advances in the treatment of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia over the past decade but the disease remains incurable and a significant number of patients die every year. This new drug is an exciting step forward in tackling this serious disease.”

Around 2,800 people are diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia in the UK each year, making it the most common form of the disease and constituting about 35 out of every 100 cases of leukaemia.

The Drug Discovery of the Year award is given to drugs that show “a significant impact on an unmet medical need” and are “first-in-class, or a significant improvement over other drugs in the class”.

Previous winners include GlaxoSmithKline in 2014 for Mekinist (trametinib) and Genentech in 2013 for Erivedge (vismodegib) – both of which are used to treat skin cancer.

Sir James Black Award

Also announced at the awards ceremony in London was the winner of the Sir James Black award, which recognises the achievements of pharmacologists in drug discovery.

This year the prize went to Professor Gareth Sanger, formerly of GlaxoSmithKline and now working at Queen Mary University, who the BPS notes was instrumental in pioneering drug discovery focusing on parts of the small intestine and brain called 5-HT3 receptors.

These receptors are affected by serotonin, which causes feelings of nausea and sickness. Sanger led the team that discovered the chemotherapy sickness drug Kytril (granisetron) at SmithKline Beecham. Kytril was launched in the early 1990s and is still in use today.

“While drug discoveries are often the result of team effort, and granisetron is no exception, Professor Sanger is more than deserving of special recognition by the British Pharmacological Society for his contributions to drug discovery,” Rang says.

“He is one of the world’s leading gastrointestinal experts and has been responsible for the successful delivery of a vast range of drug discovery projects, much to the benefit of patients and their healthcare professionals.”

George Underwood


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