Famed cancer researcher Larry W. Kwak receives Ho-Am award

April 20, 2016 | by City of Hope

World-renowned research scientist and physician Larry W. Kwak, M.D., Ph.D., who has previously been named by TIME magazine as one of the world’s 100 most influential people for his work in cancer immunotherapy, just added another major honor to his resume – the Ho-Am Prize in Medicine.

The Ho-Am Prize is considered to be the Korean equivalent of the Nobel Prize and is presented each year to six individuals of Korean descent who have made significant contributions to the advancement of humankind in the areas of science, engineering, medicine, the arts and community service.

Kwak, who is the Tim Nesvig Lymphoma Research Fellow at City of Hope, also serves as director of City of Hope’s Toni Stephenson Lymphoma Center, and as associate director for developmental therapeutics and translational research for the institution’s comprehensive cancer center. He will accept the award at a June 1 ceremony in Seoul, South Korea.

“The Ho-Am Prize in Medicine recognizes Dr. Kwak’s leading-edge research on immunology and therapeutic cancer vaccines, which have greatly advanced this field of study,” said Steven T. Rosen, M.D., City of Hope’s provost and chief scientific officer.

“His dedication to guiding research breakthroughs from the lab to the clinic, particularly in the treatment of lymphoma and other blood and bone marrow diseases, is extremely worthy of such international recognition,” he said.

Established in 1990 by Kun-Hee Lee, the chairman of Samsung, the Ho-Am Prize honors the spirit of public service espoused by Samsung’s late founder, Byung-chull Lee. This year, 38 experts and academics, including Israeli Nobel laureate scientist Dan Shechtman, served on the evaluation committee.

Kwak, who joined City of Hope in 2015, said he is both honored and humbled to have been selected as the recipient of the Ho-Am Prize in Medicine, which will help further the work he does at City of Hope.

“What makes me excited to come to work every morning — my passion — is moving lab discoveries to clinic,” said Kwak, the Dr. Michael Friedman Professor in Translational Medicine. “The culture of bench-to-bedside research at City of Hope offers us a unique ability to advance homegrown discoveries to first-in-human clinical trials.”

Kwak’s focus is the science of cancer immunotherapy, an area of research that explores how to harness the body's immune system to fight malignancy. Among his accomplishments is the development of one of the first effective cancer vaccines. The vaccine, which targets follicular lymphoma, was one of the first phase 3 cancer vaccine trials to report a positive effect.

Looking to the future, Kwak says he hopes to improve on the vaccine-based immunotherapy for which he is renowned.

“We have tools now that we didn’t have 10 or even five years ago,” Kwak said. “The science is changing rapidly, and we’re working every day on creating more drugs that target a larger number of cancers.”

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