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A*STAR Scientist Alex Matter Awarded Prestigious Szent-Gyorgyi Prize For Progress In Cancer Research

Published: Friday, April 05, 2013
Last Updated: Friday, April 05, 2013
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National Foundation for Cancer Research honours Professor Alex Matter with esteemed award for groundbreaking cancer pill that gives leukaemia patients a new lease of life.

Professor Alex Matter, Chief Executive Officer of A*STAR's Experimental Therapeutics Centre (ETC), has been awarded the 8th Annual Szent-Gyorgyi Prize for Progress in Cancer Research by the National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR) for his contributions to the development of the first drug specifically targeting a molecular lesion in cancer. 

Professor Matter is a pioneer of the world's first targeted cancer therapy, imatinib mesylate, also known as Glivec(1). His discovery turned chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) from a deadly disease into one that can be treated with an oral pill with nearly 90% long-term survival rate, with little or no side-effects. Following Glivec's success in CML, it has been successfully applied to other malignant cancers. Professor Matter's groundbreaking research demonstrated that by specifically inhibiting the activity of key oncogenic cells, it is possible to counteract cancer at the molecular biology level.

Chairman of A*STAR's Biomedical Research Council (BMRC), Professor Sir George Radda said, "This award gives due recognition to Alex's significant work which revolutionised anti-cancer drug development and gave a boost to the fight against cancer globally. We are proud to have this luminary working hand-in-hand with us in A*STAR."

Professor Matter joined ETC in April 2009, bringing with him his expertise and experience in building bridges between academic research and clinical analysis. ETC now boasts a staff strength of around 80, many of whom are senior group leaders with industrial experience who are able to train young scientists in the rigour of drug discovery and development. Committed to nurturing the young scientists in this highly competitive field, Professor Matter said, "Young people need to be trained for successful and competitive drug discovery. We are training this young generation in drug discovery the way an industrial outfit works."

Chairman of A*STAR, Mr. Lim Chuan Poh said, "The phenomenal success of Glivec is a testament to the profound impact that Alex's work has on the approach of cancer drug development. He truly deserves this honour and I extend my heartiest congratulations to him. With his deep expertise in drug discovery, Alex's first-hand experience and in-depth knowledge will guide and mentor Singapore's next generation of scientists in the process of drug discovery and development to meet increasingly difficult healthcare challenges."

With a primary mission of translating early stage scientific discoveries into useful clinical applications, ETC is actively involved in collaborations with both public and private sector organisations. Under Professor Matter's leadership, ETC signed a license agreement with Tan Tock Seng Hospital and local company AITbiotech in May last year to market a made-in-Singapore H5N1 bird flu diagnostic kit(2). The kit allows doctors to rapidly detect all existing strains in a single test with nearly 100% accuracy, within just a few hours.

Presently, ETC is working on pre-clinical drug candidates specifically for CML patients who have developed resistance to imatinib mesylate. Carried out in cooperation with Duke-NUS, the drug is expected to enter the clinical trial stage around middle of 2014.

Meanwhile, ETC is in the early stages of developing a flu vaccine with A*STAR's SIgN (Singapore Immunology Network), D3 (Drug Discovery and Development)(3), Duke-NUS, DSO and several private companies. By the middle of 2013, the consortium will be able to determine if it is ready for Phase I clinical trials for proof-of-concept in humans. If successful, this flu vaccine will play a critical role in national preparedness as it will ensure that Singaporeans will have access to the vaccine in times of a flu pandemic. 

Professor Matter has lived in Singapore for the past nine-and-a-half years. Prior to joining ETC as Chief Executive Officer, Professor Matter was the director of the Novartis Institute of Tropical Disease (NITD) since 2004. The NITD is a public-private partnership between Novartis and the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB), dedicated to finding new medicines for infectious tropical disease, such as tuberculosis, malaria and dengue fever. In addition, Professor Matter is a member of the Board of Singapore's National Medical Research Council and sits on the Board of Curiox, an A*STAR start-up company. 

The Szent-Gyorgyi Prize for Progress in Cancer Research was established by the National Foundation for Cancer Research in honour of its co-founder Dr. Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, who was the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine in 1937. Professor Matter is receiving the award at the Szent-Gyorgyi Prize Dinner and Award Ceremony today at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

(1) Gleevec in the United States.

(2) http://www.a-star.edu.sg/?TabId=828&articleType=ArticleView&articleId=1645

(3) The D3 platform ( http://www.d3.a-star.edu.sg/ ) is a co-operative effort led by A*STAR's Experimental Therapeutic Centre (ETC), with funding contributions from Singapore's National Medical Research Council (NMRC) and National Research Foundation (NRF). It is aimed at bringing promising molecules into preclinical development and early phase clinical trials, including 'proof-of-concept' studies in man.

About Alex Matter
Professor Alex Matter, M.D. is CEO of the Experimental Therapeutics Centre, A*STAR, Singapore, having spent five and a half years as Director of the Novartis Institute for Tropical Diseases (NITD), from October 2003 to February 2009. Prior to this role, Professor Matter was Global Head of Oncology Research for Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation, Head of Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research in Basel and Global Head of Translational Research. Professor Matter played an important role in the success of several anticancer drugs, including Gleevec/Glivec(R) and more recently, Tasigna(R), building and leading the teams that discovered these and several other anticancer drugs as well as one HIV protease inhibitor (Reyataz(R)) that is marketed by another company.

Professor Matter received his medical degree from the University of Basel. He also had fellowships at the Swiss National Science Foundation and the Swiss Academy for Medical Sciences. He has published more than 100 scientific articles and several book chapters in the area of oncology and hematology. He is emeritus Professor of the Medical Faculty of the University Basel and an Honorary Adjunct Professor of the Department of Pharmacology, YLL School of Medicine, NUS in Singapore. He is a member of the American Association for Cancer Research, the National Medical Research Council in Singapore, and the Board of Curiox, a Singapore-based start up company. He is also a member of several Scientific Advisory Boards. He is an elected member of the Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences.

Professor Matter is the recipient of the Life-time Achievement Award from IBC Life Sciences, the 13th Warren-Alpert prize and the AACRBruce F. Cain Memorial Award.


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