For the discovery of the statins — drugs with remarkable LDL-cholesterol-lowering properties that have revolutionized the prevention and treatment of coronary heart disease.
The 2008 Lasker~DeBakey Award for Clinical Medical Research honors a scientist who discovered statins — drugs with remarkable LDL-cholesterol-lowering properties that have revolutionized the prevention and treatment of coronary heart disease (CHD). Akira Endo (Biopharm Research Laboratories, Inc., Tokyo) sifted through thousands of organisms, hunting for natural substances that block a key enzyme in the biochemical pathway that produces cholesterol, a major contributor to CHD. Remarkably, the compound that Endo found lowers concentrations of LDL (the bad cholesterol) but not HDL (the good cholesterol) in the bloodstream of animals and humans. His work stimulated Merck, Sharp & Dohme Research Laboratories (Merck) to launch a drug-development program that led, 20 years ago, to the first statin approved for medical use. This advance paved a path for other pharmaceutical companies to follow.
LDL in the bloodstream can form fatty deposits that narrow blood vessels. When this process occurs in arteries that deliver blood to the heart, it can lead to CHD, the major cause of chest pain and heart attack and the top killer in the industrialized world. In the US, more than 450,000 people died from CHD in 2004. In 2005, the American Heart Association estimated that 16 million Americans had CHD and 1.2 million would have a new or recurrent heart attack that year. Statin use is increasing — 30 million people worldwide are taking them — and has begun to make a dent in those numbers. The drugs dramatically reduce the risk of CHD and its associated life-threatening events. Furthermore, studies with statins have erased long-standing doubt about the possibility of safely reducing cholesterol quantities with pharmaceutical agents.
Award presentation by Joseph Goldstein
The human body produces tens of thousands of different molecules. Several of them — DNA, hemoglobin, insulin, estrogen — are household names. But none has captured the public’s imagination like cholesterol. Cholesterol is the quintessential celebrity molecule: it appears regularly on the front pages of USA Today and the New York Times, on the covers of Time and Newsweek, and it’s the subject of endless Jay Leno jokes, New Yorker cartoons, and cocktail party conversations. Many of you in the room know your cholesterol level but can’t remember your wedding anniversary.
Acceptance remarks by Akira Endo
Acceptance remarks, 2008 Lasker Awards Ceremony
It is a great honor for me to receive the 2008 Lasker Award in Clinical Medical Research. I thank the members of the jury and the foundation that made it possible.
Four decades ago, from 1966 to 1968, I studied at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine here in New York. Even before that time I was interested in cholesterol metabolism, and during my stay here, I learnt much about cholesterol both in my daily work and life.
Interview with Akira Endo
Video Credit: Susan Hadary