19 June 2020

Two Oncode Investigators awarded the highest distinction in Dutch Science

Elize Brolsma

Two Oncode Investigators will receive the highest awards in science. Professor Sjaak Neefjes (LUMC) will be awarded the Spinoza Prize and professor Ton Schumacher (NKI) will receive the Stevin Prize. Each laureate will receive 2.5 million euros, which they can spend on scientific research and activities related to knowledge utilisation.

The researchers are receiving the prize for their outstanding, pioneering and inspiring work. The key focus of both prizes is the quality of the researcher: whereas the Spinoza Prize emphasises the scientific work and fundamental questions, the Stevin Prize primarily honours the societal impact.

Sjaak Neefjes and Ton Schumacher do not only share the spotlight today, they also shared a lab table at the beginning of their career, during their PhD research with professor Hidde Ploegh.

Geert Kops, Scientific Director at Oncode Institute says: “These prizes are a truly wonderful acknowledgement of two very inspiring scientists who do basic research at the highest level and tirelessly work to make an impact on society. We are very proud to have Sjaak and Ton in the Oncode community.”

Prof. Sjaak Neefjes
Sjaak Neefjes, Professor of Chemical Immunology (Leiden University) and head of the Department of Cellular and Chemical Biology (Leiden University Medical Center), is a multidisciplinary scientific all-rounder. He develops ingenious techniques and combines insights from chemistry, cell biology, immunology and biochemistry to study processes in individual cells. That leads to fundamental, groundbreaking discoveries about the functioning of the immune system, which are translated into clinical applications for cancer and infectious diseases as well as for autoimmune diseases such as rheumatism and multiple sclerosis.

Sjaak Neefjes is very excited about the award. He says: “Thanks to this prize, it is now possible for us to produce an old anti-cancer medicine ourselves and bring it to patients. We want to introduce two less toxic anthracyclines – aclarubicin and modified doxorubicin – into clinical practice. This is a very important step for cancer patients and I’m proud to be part of this project.”

Prof. Ton Schumacher
Ton Schumacher is an internationally renowned researcher in the field of immunotherapy against cancer. He is group leader Molecular Oncology & Immunology at The Netherlands Cancer Institute. He is also Professor of Immune Technology at Leiden University and Leiden University Medical Center. The immunologist has played a crucial role in the rapid development of this discipline due to his scientific discoveries as well as his ability to translate these into patient-oriented applications. Breakthroughs in the area of genetically manipulating T-cells have led to a new treatment against blood cancer. Schumacher’s publications about neo-antigens open the door to a personalised cancer vaccine.

Ton Schumacher feels honoured by the award. He says: “With the 2.5 million euros from the Stevin prize, I want to build an algorithm that can predict whether a T-cell is able to recognize cancer cells. It would be wonderful if we could look in a patient's blood to see if there are T-cells that can specifically recognize their cancer. I see this award as an appreciation for our work in which we showed that in many cancer patients a dormant immune response is present that targets the newly formed antigens (neo-antigens) that arise as a result of DNA damage.”

Award ceremony in September 2020
Professor Nynke Dekker, professor Jan van Hest, professor Pauline Kleingeld are also awarded the Spinoza Prize. Professor Linda Steg will also receive the Stevin Prize.

The festive award ceremony of the Spinoza and Stevin Prizes will take place on Wednesday 30 September 2020. During the ceremony, the Spinoza and Stevin laureates will explain their research to the audience and state how they intend to use the financial part of their prize.

Sjaak Neefjes

Ton Schumacher

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