In 2014 the iCMLf Rowley Prize for persons who have made major
contributions to understanding the biology of CML is awarded to Dr Owen Witte, a Distinguished Professor of Microbiology, Immunology and Molecular genetics. Dr Witte is Director of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator. He currently holds the UCLA Presidential Chair in Developmental Immunology.
The iCMLf award recognises Dr Witte’s outstanding contributions to the understanding of the biologic fundamentals of leukemia and the development of therapeutic strategies for Ph+ positive leukemia. Dr Witte discovered the tyrosine kinase activity for the ABL gene and the demonstration of the BCR-ABL oncoproteins in leukemia. He demonstrated that this kinase is critical for the leukemic phenotype of CML and related types of leukemia. "Janet Rowley was a wonderful person and a great scientist whose work on the Philadelphia chromosome is a landmark in cancer genetics. She strongly influenced my perspective on the field of leukemia research", said Dr. Witte when he was notified on his nomination for the 2014 Rowley Prize.
Dr Witte's research focused on the interrelated problems of cell growth regulation and differentiation, and in understanding the function of cancer-causing genes found in human leukemia and epithelial cancers. This fundamental research became the foundation for the later development of Imatinib as the first targeted therapy for CML. His work also defined Bruton's tyrosine kinase which has become a target therapy of several types of leukemia and lymphoma with drugs like ibrutinib. Recently he has concentrated on defining the stem cells for epithelial cancers of the prostate and other organs to help define new and more effective therapies.
Dr Witte graduated from Cornell University and earned his medical degree at Stanford. He completed his postdoctoral research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and later joined the UCLA faculty.