A UC San Diego cancer biologist has received a $3 million award for his work in tumor growth. He is one of 11 winners around the world to win the inaugural Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences.

The award was given to Napoleone Ferrara, a molecular biologist at UCSD’s Moores Cancer Center who found that new blood vessel growth can lead to tumor expansion. These findings led to the development of two major drugs marketed by San Francisco-based Genentech and its parent company Roche Group — Avastin, which treats multiple forms of cancer, and Lucentis, which treats macular degeneration.

“Napoleone’s work has profoundly advanced our basic understanding of how cancer develops and grows,” said David Brenner, vice chancellor for Health Sciences and dean of the UC San Diego School of Medicine in a statement. “More importantly, he helped create brand new drugs and therapies based upon that research to effectively treat a broad range of cancers and other conditions. He continues with those efforts today, pushing himself and colleagues to find better answers to cancer.”

The award, given to life scientists who have pushed the boundaries of their disciplines, was established this year by Facebook Inc. founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan; Google Inc. co-founder Sergey Brin and his wife, Anne Wojcicki, founder of genetics testing company 23andMe; and Russian investor Yuri Milner.

Ferrara, 56, came to UCSD last year after a long career at Genentech, where he did much of his cancer research.

— SDBJ Staff Report