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UCSD Researcher Surprised To Win $3 Million Breakthrough Prize In Life Sciences

Dr. Napoleone Ferrara, the senior deputy director for basic sciences at the UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center, talks to KPBS about winning the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences.


Dr. Napoleone Ferrara, Senior Deputy Director for Basic Sciences at UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center


Have you ever heard of the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences? The one with the $3 million prize for each winner? Well, neither had Dr. Napoleone Ferrara, the San Diego scientist who won one of those prizes last week.

The prize, founded by tech industry heavy hitters like Art Levinson, Sergey Brin, Anne Wojcicki, Mark Zuckerberg, Priscilla Chan and Yuri Milner, is part of a new initiative to make scientists feel as rewarded as a Hollywood star feels getting an Oscar. The Breakthrough Prize is aimed at "advancing breakthrough research, celebrating scientists and generating excitement about the pursuit of science as a career," according to its website.

Dr. Ferrara is currently the senior deputy director for basic sciences at the UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center. He says he was surprised when he received a phone call telling him he was one of 11 recipients of the award.

"Which is understandable because this was the first time this prize was given, at least in life sciences," he said. "I was really stunned by the magnitude of the prize, which is believed to be the richest in the life sciences."

Ferrara has spent 30 years studying blood vessel and helped figure out how tumors grow. He joined the UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center three months ago after spending nearly 25 years at Genentech. That's where his work led to the discovery of two medications that are credited with improving the quality of life for cancer patients and those who suffer from macular degeneration, a type of blindness that impacts older adults.

Claire Trageser contributed to this report.

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