Three UC Berkeley researchers have received awards for their outstanding research in chemistry.
Kevan Shokat, Dan Nomura and Markita Landry, faculty members in campus’s college of chemistry, are being recognized in their respective fields for their advancements in cancer research and plant modification.
“Awards are amazing, but the really fantastic part of science is the discovery,” Shokat said. “Science is difficult, and a lot of things don’t work, but when they do it’s really cool to see.”
Shokat’s research has led to the discovery of a drug-binding pocket on the cancer-causing K-Ras protein that was previously considered “undruggable.” This is the first human oncogene — a type of gene that has the potential to cause cancer — to be discovered, and also the most common oncogene in cancer.
The first drug to come from this discovery was approved two years ago, leading to advancements in lung cancer treatment.
Shokat will receive the Sjoberg Prize from the Swedish Academy of Sciences in March, as well as the Award for Scientific Discovery from the National Academy of Sciences in April.
Dan Nomura, professor of chemical biology and molecular therapeutics, is also being recognized for his discoveries in cancer therapy research.
“We have discovered potential therapeutics against classically undruggable cancer targets, developed unique strategies to destroy and degrade cancer-causing proteins, and pioneered approaches to stabilize aberrantly degraded proteins that protect us from cancer,” Nomura said in an email.
Nomura’s lab has received an ASPIRE II award from The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research and a prize of $1.5 million over three years, according to foundation CEO Ryan Schoenfeld which will support his team’s research on new therapeutics for cancer.
With support from the foundation, Nomura says he will continue working towards the development of next-generation cancer drugs through the use of his team’s covalent chemoproteomic platforms.
“We are very honored to receive an ASPIRE award,” Nomura said in an email. “The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research has always supported cutting edge innovative cancer research and we are happy to receive this award alongside an outstanding group of investigators.”
Markita Landry, associate professor in chemical and biomolecular engineering, is receiving the 2023 Bakar Award for research on genetically modified plants.
Landry will receive $225,000 to spend over two to three years to move her technology closer to commercialization.
According to Susan Jenkins, managing director of the Bakar Fellows Program, Landry’s work will have a significant and positive impact on how we modify plants to improve disease resistance, higher yield and drought tolerance, all of which are important for dealing with climate change and a growing population.
“Her approach to modify plants would remove the most difficult and time consuming steps in creating modified plants,” Jenkins said in an email. “Her project is a perfect example of using biotechnology for societal good.”