The 2019 Louis-Jeantet Prize awarded to Luigi Naldini
Luigi Naldini, director of the San Raffaele Telethon Institute for Gene Therapy (SR-Tiget) and full professor at Università Vita-Salute San Raffaele, is awarded the 2019 Louis-Jeantet Prize for Translational Medicine for his pioneering work taking gene therapy from the bench to the bedside, allowing to treat several genetic diseases.
Established in 1986, the Louis-Jeantet Prizes have thus far been awarded to 90 world-renowned researchers. Among them, 12 subsequently won the Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine, or the Nobel Prize for chemistry. Together with Luigi Naldini, Botond Roska, a founding director of the Institute of Molecular and Clinical Ophthalmology Basel (IOB) in Switzerland, is also awarded the Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine for the discovery of basic principles of visual information processing and the development of therapeutic strategies to restore vision in retinal disorders. The award ceremony will be held in Genève, Switzerland, on Wednesday, 10 April 2019.
Luigi Naldini received his M.D. from the University of Turin and his Ph.D. from the University of Rome. In the mid 90’s he moved to the Salk Institute in San Diego, USA, to carry out his research work in the laboratories of Inder Verma and Didier Trono, where he pioneered the development of lentiviral gene transfer vectors from HIV. He then spent two years in the biotechnology industry in San Francisco, before moving back to academia in Turin. Since 2008, he has been the director of SR-Tiget and Professor at Università Vita-Salute San Raffaele. Luigi Naldini was elected as a member of the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO). He has been President of the European Society of Gene and Cell Therapy (ESGCT) and he was appointed as an expert on the Human Gene Editing Study of the US National Academies of Sciences and of Medicine. Over the years, Naldini has received several awards, including the Outstanding Achievement Award from the American Society of Gene and Cell Therapy in 2014 and from the ESGCT in 2015, the Jiemenz Diaz award in 2016 and the Van Beutler Award of the American Society of Haematology in 2017.
These numerous awards underline the role, in the last twenty years, of Luigi Naldini as a pivotal figure in the development and application of lentiviral vectors for gene transfer. These, besides being among the most used tools in biomedical research, demonstrate safety and efficacy in clinical trials for the treatment of serious genetic diseases and for some types of cancer. To date, more than a hundred patients suffering from diseases such as metachromatic leukodystrophy, Wiskott Aldrich syndrome and other severe immunodeficiencies have been treated with modified hematopoietic stem cells using lentiviral vectors to replace the defective gene. More recently, this strategy has also been extended to the treatment of thalassemia.
Meanwhile, Luigi Naldini’s research has continued to bring about innovative solutions to further enhance the efficacy and safety of gene therapy, such as targeted gene editing. These studies open the way to correct, rather than replace, genes, a potentially revolutionary approach that may substantially expand the scope and power of genetic manipulation.