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Precision Medicine World Conference (PMWC) 2018 Holds Opening Awards Ceremony at Mission Bay Campus of UCSF; Emmanuelle Charpentier, Alan Ashworth, John Bell, & Ron Levy Honored

The Precision Medicine World Conference 2018 Silicon Valley (PMWC 2018 SV) kicked off on Sunday evening January 21 with a special awards ceremony at Genentech Hall on the Mission Bay campus of the University of California-San Francisco (UCSF). UCSF hosted the ceremony and Keith Yamamoto, PhD, Vice Chancellor for Research, Executive Vice Dean of the School of Medicine, and Professor of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology at UCSF, MC’d the event. The PMWC 2018 Luminary Award was presented to Emmanuelle Charpentier (photo receiving award from Dr. Yamamoto), PhD, for spearheading the development of the groundbreaking CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing technology. With this award, the PMWC recognizes recent contributions of preeminent figures who have accelerated personalized medicine into the clinical marketplace. The PMWC 2018 Pioneer Awards were presented to Alan Ashworth, PhD, for co-discovering the BRCA2 gene mutation and making discoveries leading to PARP inhibition in breast and other cancers; to Professor Sir John Bell, of Oxford University, for leading genetic and genomic research initiatives that enable precision medicine in the UK and globally; and to Ronald Levy, MD, for developing the first FDA-approved antibody for the treatment of cancer (rituximab). With its Pioneer Awards, the PMWC recognizes rare individuals who have presaged the advent of personalized medicine when less evolved technology and encouragement from peers existed, but still made major advances in the field. Previous PMWC award recipients include Jennifer Douda, Lee Hood, George Church, and Francis Collins. The general PMWC 2018 SV meeting officially opens on Monday, January 22 and runs through Wednesday, January 24 ( It will be held at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. This year’s PMWC SV expects almost 1,500 attendees and will feature over 350 speakers, 250 companies, and scores of exhibitors. The meeting is organized by Tal Behar and her husband Gadi Behar.

Dr. Yamamoto opened Sunday’s awards ceremony by noting the “extraordinary contributions” of the evening’s awardees, and emphasizing what a “terrific meeting” the PMWC, now in its ninth year, is, as it provides a forum in which stakeholders from across the spectrum of science, government, and industry can interact and cross-fertilize. He especially thanked organizers Tal and Gati Behar for their wonderful efforts.

Dr. Yamamoto then introduced Dr. Sam Hawgood, Chancellor of UCSF, to say a few words. Dr. Hawgood said that UCSF believes deeply in the premise of precision medicine and has embraced it broadly. He stated that we are at a “transformative moment in history” and we are now experiencing a “renaissance in biomedical science.”

Next, Dr. Yamamoto introduced PMWC 2018 program organizer George Sledge, MD, Professor of Medicine (Oncology), Division Chief, Stanford University Medical Center, to say a few words about the upcoming meeting.

Dr. Sledge said he believed it would be a “truly exceptional conference,” with “great speakers,” presenting on “cutting-edge topics.” We are in a “revolutionary period,” he said, and “the revolutionaries are here.”


Then, Dr. Yamamoto moved to the awards and began by introducing the Luminary Award recipient Dr. Charpentier. In his remarks, Dr. Yamamoto noted that Emmanuelle had achieved a scientific “tour de force” while doing basic research to investigate an immune-like process in bacteria, and that she had certainly kept her childhood pledge to her mother that she “would do something to advance research.” He emphasized that Dr. Charpentier’s conviction, and his, is that “basic research is essential to progress.”


Emmanuelle Charpentier, PhD, helped launch a revolution in molecular genetics and genomics, which has become one of the most remarkable success stories of science, the discovery of CRISPR-Cas9. This simple-to-use-technique can alter the DNA of any organism using RNA-programmed DNA cleavage, much as a film editor cuts a piece of film and splices in new frames. Since the discovery of the mechanism, the molecular scissors have taken laboratories around the world by storm. As it is much more precise, efficient, and cost-effective than previous methods, it is already a vital addition to many labs. Dr. Charpentier had foreseen that her discovery could open up new ways of specifically targeting genes and treating human genetic disorders. She has conducted research at nine different institutes in five different countries over the past 20 years, including the Institute of Microbiology and Genetics at Vienna University, the Centre of Molecular Biology, Max F. Perutz Laboratories, the Laboratory for Molecular Infection Medicine Sweden (MIMS) at Umeå University, the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research in Braunschweig, and the Hannover Medical School, serving simultaneously as Professor. The gene-therapy company that she co-founded in 2013, CRISPR Therapeutics, has become one of the world’s most richly financed preclinical biotech companies. Among the many awards received by Dr. Charpentier are the Princess of Asturias Award for Scientific and Technical Research, the Louis Jeantet Prize for Medicine, the Ernst Jung Prize for Medicine, the 2015 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, the 2016 Leibniz Prize, and the 2017 Japan Prize.

In accepting the Luminary Award, Dr. Charpentier said that she was “truly touched” to be honored in such a way, and noted that her advance had not been deliberately planned, but had come from investigating “an interesting phenomenon in bacteria.”


Next, Chancellor Sam Hawgood of UCSF, introduced Pioneer Award recipient Dr. Ashworth as one of the world’s “preeminent cancer scientists.”


Prior to joining UCSF in January 2015, Alan Ashworth, PhD, served as Chief Executive of the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and the Director of the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Centre in London. A translational biologist and laboratory researcher, Dr. Ashworth’s research focuses on understanding breast cancer genetics to improve the treatment and care of patients. He was a key part of the team that identified the BRCA2 breast cancer susceptibility gene that is linked to an increased risk for some types of cancer. Ten years later, he discovered how to kill BRCA1- and BRCA2-related tumor cells by treating them with PARP (poly ADP ribose polymerase) inhibitors, which are drugs that increase the damage caused by the broken DNA repair machinery in those cancer cells. This exemplifies the principle of “synthetic lethality” as cancer therapy. Three different PARP inhibitors are now approved by the FDA. In 2016, Dr. Ashworth and UCSF’s Pamela Munster, MD, established the Center for BRCA Research, one of only two such centers in the US. He also started the San Francisco Cancer Initiative that launched in 2016. Dr. Ashworth also chairs the UC Cancer Consortium, an alliance of the five UC cancer centers holding comprehensive cancer center status, the highest designation possible from the National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute. The Consortium’s projects include precision medicine, clinical trials, population health science, best practices in harnessing big data to improve health, and political engagement for public benefit.

Dr. Ashworth is an elected member of the EMBO, the Academy of Medical Sciences, and a Fellow of the Royal Society. He has received a number of scientific prizes and awards, including The European Society of Medical Oncology Lifetime Achievement Award, the David T. Workman Memorial Award of the Samuel Waxman Cancer Research Foundation, the Meyenburg Foundation’s Cancer Research Award, the Basser Global Prize, the Genetics Society Medal, and the 2017 Brinker Award for Scientific Distinction in Basic Science from the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

In accepting his Pioneer Award, Dr. Ashworth thanked the PMWC and said “it means a lot.” He noted that his work on the team that identified the BRCA2 mutation in 1995 had begun when a fellow junior PI, at the time, Michael Stratton, asked him if he would be interested in looking for a second breast cancer gene. Then, ten years later, he began working on the idea that the inhibition of DNA repair in breast cancer cells that were already deficient in DNA repair might be an “incredibly potent way to kill cells.” And, although at the time others thought this a crazy idea and wondered why he would want to pursue it, it nevertheless led to the eventual development of PARP inhibitors.

Dr. Ashworth related the story of meeting a woman at a panel discussion a few years ago who had been diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer and relapsed after six months on standard chemotherapy. She was found to have a BRCA2 mutation and was treated with a PARP inhibitor. Dr. Ashworth said he had seen this same woman three years later, and, although it was likely she would eventually still progress, she had had three years without cancer and she had had that additional time to watch her children grow. That time had been very precious to her. It is “thrilling” to see such progress, Dr. Ashworth said, but it is sobering to realize that complete victory has not yet been won. There is so much still to do.


Next, Ira Mellman, PhD, Vice President, Cancer Immunology, Genentech, and Dr. Peter Donnelly, Director of The Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, Oxford University, jointly introduced Professor Bell.

Dr. Mellman particularly noted Professor Bell’s seminal work on the MHC locus and autoimmunity starting in 1982 in the lab of Dr. Hugh McDevitt at Stanford. Dr. Mellman also noted that, despite his various UK knighthoods, Professor Bell’s complete lack of an English accent betrays his origins in Canada.

Dr. Donnelly remarked that Professor Bell has three passions: precision medicine, his family, and rowing. Dr. Donnelly noted that, for the last 15 years, Professor Bell, a former Rhodes scholar, has served as a leading strategist for the Oxford rowing crew


Professor Sir John Bell, a geneticist-immunologist, is Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University, a position founded by King Henry VIII. In 2006, he was appointed to Chair the Office for Strategic Coordination of Health Research, a body that coordinates the research agendas of the UK’s National Institute for Health Research and the Medical Research Council. He was a Founder Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences and served as its President from 2006 to 2011. Sir John led the working group that produced the Academy’s highly influential report, “Strengthening Clinical Research,” which highlighted the need for the UK to focus on developing expertise in translational research.

In 1993, he founded the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, the world’s first and one of the leading centers advancing understanding of common genetic conditions through multidisciplinary research. He is a founding director of three biotechnology companies and a non-executive member of the board of Roche.

He also serves as the Chairman of both the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Scientific Advisory Committee and the Oxford Health Alliance, a private public partnership that sponsors research and advocacy on chronic disease around the globe.

Sir John has directed research programs in immunology and genetics that have identified genes involved in diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis and he has helped to pioneer a number of high-throughput genomic methodologies.

As a Rhodes Scholar, Sir John received his medical education at Oxford, went on to Royal College of Physicians in London and was a Clinical Fellow at Stanford University.

Among his many honors for his service to medicine, medical research, and the life science industry are appointments as Knight Grand Cross of the British Empire, Fellow of the Royal Society, Knight Bachelor of the Imperial Society and in 2011 Sir John was appointed as one of two UK Life Science Champions by the Prime Minister.

In accepting his Pioneer Award, Dr. Bell said that one of the things he had learned in his long career was that “if anything is worth doing, when you start no one believes it is worth doing.” He mentioned that when the UK Biobank idea was hatched in his office, most thought it was a crazy idea, but now, 15 year later, it has “started to take off.”

He added that he particularly appreciated receiving the Pioneer Award because he hailed from the flatlands of Canada where pioneers were common, and he noted that if you want to be a pioneer, you must expect to be the target of “potshots.”

He closed by saying that the ability to predict disease is one of the “most exciting possibilities of precision medicine,” and that “early diagnosis is everything.”


Next, Ian Chen, Chairman & CEO of Abpro (, introduced Pioneer Award recipient Dr. Ronald Levy by noting his major contributions to the advance of immune-oncology.


Dr. Ronald Levy’s decades-long work to find a way to use the body’s immune system to develop antibodies against invading tumor cells led to the development of the first FDA-approved antibody-based drug to treat cancer, rituximab. In 1997, rituximab to treat lymphoma proved successful, resulting in tumor regression with few side effects. Rituximab is now used for every lymphoma patient either as a stand-alone treatment or in combination with other therapies. Dr. Levy is currently studying non-responding lymphoma cells that become more prevalent as patients undergo treatment, a cell subpopulation that he believes may constitute the tumor’s stem cell population. Dr. Levy’s interest in the immune system began early in his medical career and deepened during his work in the labs of Michael Feldman at the Weizmann Institute in Israel, Steven Rosenberg at NIH, and Michael Sela, again at Weizmann. Dr. Levy remained convinced that the body’s own defenses could be used to fight cancer, even though cancer cells often fail to trigger internal defense mechanisms.

Dr. Levy was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2008. His inaugural article, published in the National Academy of Science Proceedings revealed a subpopulation of lymphoma cells whose numbers at the time of diagnosis predict the severity and lethality of these tumors.

Dr. Levy’s work has been recognized with multiple honors and awards, including the King Faisal International Prize, the Damashek Prize, the American Cancer Society’s Medal of Honor, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s di Villiers International Achievement Award, the C. Chester Stock Award from the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the Karnofsky Award from the American Society of Clinical Oncology, and others. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and of the Institute of Medicine.

Levy received an AB degree in Biochemistry from Harvard University in 1963, and an MD from the Stanford University School of Medicine in 1968. He did his residency and internship at the Massachusetts General Hospital.

In accepting his Pioneer Award, Dr. Levy remarked on “what an exciting time it is for science and medicine, with amazing discoveries occurring at a rapid pace.” He noted proudly that the monoclonal antibody rituxan that he had developed 20 years ago has “stood the test of time,” and that, over those years, millions have received cancer treatment with this drug.

He closed by noting that a colleague had once told him that “you are only as good as your next idea,” and urged everyone to come hear his presentation on Wednesday at 8 am to hear his next idea. That talk is titled “A Better Way to Trigger the Immune Response Against Cancer.”


Dr. Sledge then stepped forward to speak briefly about the upcoming conference. He noted that a wide range of exciting topics would be discussed, including microbial profiling, circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA), immune-oncology, genomic profiling, next-gen sequencing, single-cell sequencing, systems biology, and artificial intelligence (AI).

Dr. Yamamoto closed the ceremony by suggesting that the evening’s presentation may have sewn the seeds for the next generation of luminaries and pioneers.


Tal Behar founded the Precision Medicine World Conference (PMWC), formerly known as the Personalized Medicine World Conference, in 2009, partnering with Stanford Health Care. Today, PMWC is the leading global gathering of professionals focused on personalized medicine. Tal has been responsible for the Conference’s steady and profitable growth to more than 1000 attendees, 250 speakers, 200 companies, and scores of exhibitors per event. Tal is also a co-founder of Silicon Ventures, the private high-tech investor forum that provides funding to early stage companies. Under her leadership, hundreds of high-technology-focused events in Silicon Valley and abroad have been launched.

In addition to PMWC 2018 Silicon Valley, PMWC 2018-Michigan will be held June 6-7 at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. That conference’s theme will be “Big Data in Action: Data-Drive Insights in the Clinic.” PMW 2018-Duke will be held September 24-25 at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.


PMWC co-hosts include UCSF, Stanford Health Care/Stanford Medicine, Duke University, Duke Health, Johns Hopkins University, and the University of Michigan.


Photo shows Dr. Emmanuelle Charpentier addressing the audience after accepting the PMWC 2018 Luminary Award. (Photo credit: Rosalyn Lee).

[PMWC 2018 Silicon Valley] [PMWC 2018 Michigan, June 6-7] [PMWC 2018 Duke, September 24-25]