Prof. Rimona Margalit and Prof. Dan Peer have been awarded the American ‘Untold News’ Prize for Israeli innovation
Professor Dan Peer of the Department of Cell Research & Immunology and the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, and Professor Rimona Margalit of the Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology were awarded the first ever ‘Untold News’ prize for Israeli innovation. The new prize is conferred by the American association ‘Untold News’, which devotes its activities to revealing Israeli innovations to the world.
The pair won the prize for their ground-breaking development – “nano-submarines”: drug-carriers of miniscule dimensions (billionths of a metre), aimed at a smart and focused approach to fighting cancer cells. These same “nano-submarines” carry molecules such as siRNAs, able to block the formation of damaged proteins in diseased cells, as well as chemotherapy drugs. The prize committee believes that this new technology will revolutionise the treatment of cancer.
“The particle is a Trojan horse”
“In contrast to chemotherapy, which cannot discern between cancerous and healthy cells, our nano-submarines are equipped with a type of GPS”, explains Prof. Peer. “We are talking about a large particle (in nano-metric terms) that attaches to the cancerous cell and then alters its shape, discharging from within the particle even tinier particles that destroy the cell. Our particle is a Trojan horse – it is disguised as a particular sugar that the cancerous cell requires in order to metastasise. It thus knows to which cell to attach and to which cell not to attach.
“We chose to focus on liver, breast, pancreatic and ovarian cancers, and of these cancers we selected to focus on those that metastasise or are immune to chemotherapy”, continues Prof. Peer. “The Israeli company ‘Quiet Therapeutics’, which acquired a licence from Tel Aviv University, is currently on the verge of beginning clinical trials – at the stage of selecting the initial drugs that our nano-submarine will deliver to the patients’ cancer cells. It is exciting to see something that you invented in the laboratory go out into the wide world with the aim of changing it for the better, particularly when one is talking about a disease such as cancer. The real prize will be the ability to treat cancer patients with a minimum of side effects and maximum of healing ability.”
A 14-year development
“I worked on this development for 14 years, together with Prof. Rimona Margalit, of the Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology at Tel Aviv University,” says Prof. Peer. “She is a partner to the prize. This is about an invention that we invented, not a discovery that we discovered. Consequently, a vast amount of time and money have been invested in the process, and many people have been involved in this project – from leading researchers to the students in our laboratories. I am proud to see our development having progressed from initial research to actual application, and I am certain that this exciting area of research constitutes the future in the fight against cancer in particular, and the future of medicine in general.”
Prof. Margalit and Prof. Peer are two of the four Israeli scientists/inventors who have been awarded the first ever ‘Untold New’ Prize, from a large and respected pool of candidates submitted by the various scientific, technological and higher-learning institutions in Israel. The two additional prize-winners are Prof. Shlomo Megadassy of the Hebrew University, Jerusalem and the engineer Idan Tovis.
The award ceremony will take place in New York, on November 12th, 2014.