Professor Jürg TSCHOPP
Winner of the 2008 Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine

The information below refers to the time of the award.

Jürg Tschopp was a professor and co-director of the Department for Biochemistry at the University of Lausanne, where he led a research group specialised in the study of the mechanisms associated with cell death and innate immune responses. He had already received the Friedrich Miescher Prize awarded by the Swiss Society for Biochemistry, the Swiss Cloëtta Foundation Prize, the San Salvatore Prize of Ticino for cancer research, as well as the European Cell Death Society Prize. In addition, Jürg Tschopp had jointly founded two biotech companies: the Apoxis start-up in Lausanne (which received the Swiss Technology Award in 2004) and Apotech based in Epalinges and in the United States.

From cell death to inflammation.

Cell death forms an integral part of our body’s natural processes. At any moment in time, numerous cells in our body break down naturally, some due to necrosis, others as a result of ‘suicide’ – a phenomenon called apoptosis.  Where this latter process fails, cells proliferate in an uncontrolled manner leading to the development of cancers.

Jürg Tschopp had studied the mechanisms of cell death for twenty years. He had notably characterized the function of caspases, a class of enzymes that are vital for triggering apoptosis. This research had led him to conceive a new anti-cancer treatment which is currently undergoing Phase I clinical testing (the assessment of medicines for the absence of toxicity). Preliminary results are most encouraging.

There is in fact a large family of caspase enzymes, some of which are involved in inflammation. This naturally had also attracted Jürg Tschopp’s interest. He had demonstrated the key role played by an assembly of proteins he called inflammasome. This triggers a whole series of reactions which lead to the formation of interleukin-1, an inflammatory molecule. This discovery has already had important therapeutic implications. Jürg Tschopp had suggested using a medicine which blocks interleukin-1 for the treatment of inflammatory diseases such as the Muckle-Wells syndrome (a serious form of hereditary urticaria) and gout. For both cases, the results of the treatment proved to be spectacular.