Finalists announced for $1M Sanford Lorraine Cross Award

Jean Bennett and Katherine A. High, Brian Kaspar and James M. Wilson named as contenders for inaugural award

By: Paul Heinert .

The finalists for the $1 million Sanford Lorraine Cross Award have been announced.
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. –- Inspiring scientists and industry to develop gene therapy. Reversing a rare form of blindness. Enabling children to walk.

These are the enormous contributions the four finalists for the $1 million Sanford Lorraine Cross Award made to medicine, science and innovation. The award will be given out in a special ceremony in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on Dec. 4, 2018.

“To find our four finalists, we identified medical and research pioneers, which led us specifically to the field of gene therapy,” said David Pearce, Ph.D., president of research at Sanford Health. “These four finalists helped lay the groundwork for much of what is being explored now, and we want to honor them for that.”

The finalists are:

  • Jean Bennett, M.D., Ph.D., and Katherine A. High, M.D., whose work with the RPE65 mutation has reversed an inherited form of blindness. Bennett and High pioneered the gene therapy, took it to clinical trials and then received FDA-approval for the treatment, the first FDA approval of a gene therapy for a genetic disease. High also co-founded Spark Therapeutics, a fully integrated, commercial gene therapy company working to accelerate the timeline for bringing new gene therapies to market. Bennett is a professor of ophthalmology at the University of Pennsylvania and a scientific co-founder of Spark Therapeutics, and High is president and head of research and development at Spark Therapeutics.
  • Brian Kaspar, Ph.D., whose lab discovered a gene replacement therapy approach that seeks to change the course of spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) by addressing its genetic cause. SMA is a devastating disease that robs babies of basic muscle functions, like breathing and swallowing, and in its most severe form (Type 1), usually leads to death by age 2. An initial clinical trial using the AAV9 vector to treat SMA Type 1 demonstrated a dramatic survival benefit and rapid improvement in motor milestones. Kaspar is the scientific founder and chief scientific officer of AveXis, a gene therapy company that was acquired by Novartis in 2018.
  • James M. Wilson, M.D., Ph.D., whose work paved the way for many groups to safely move promising gene therapies for inherited and acquired diseases through the translational pipeline internationally. He is the director of the Gene Therapy Program, the Rose H. Weiss Professor and Director of the Orphan Disease Center, and a professor of Medicine and Pediatrics in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. In 2008, Wilson and the University of Pennsylvania cofounded REGENXBIO, Inc., a clinical-stage biotech company designing gene therapy products.

In December, the Sanford International Board will hear presentations from the Lorraine Cross Award finalists.

“These individuals are changing the world,” said David Shulkin, International Board member and Sanford Health chief of innovation. “At Sanford, we want to reward innovation and scientific breakthroughs. We’re committed to finding the next frontier in medicine and research, and recognizing others with the same goal.”

Candidates for the award were filtered through nominations from the public and a computer algorithm that sifted through medical publications in search of great discoveries. An interdisciplinary scientific advisory board identified top areas of innovation and the candidates were narrowed down to the top four.

The award is named after the Lorraine Cross, a symbol recognized around the world synonymous for those who take action for their passions.  In recent history, Sanford Health has used it to symbolize innovation in health care.

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