The 2023 Harrington Prize for Innovation in Medicine: Jean Bennett, MD, PhD, and Albert M. Maguire, MD

The tenth annual Harrington Prize for Innovation in Medicine has been jointly awarded to Jean Bennett, MD, PhD, the F.M. Kirby Emeritus Professor of Ophthalmology and Cell and Developmental Biology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, and Albert M. Maguire, MD, the F.M. Kirby Professor of Molecular Ophthalmology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. The award recognizes this team’s groundbreaking translational research to restore sight in inherited genetic diseases.

The Harrington Prize for Innovation in Medicine, established in 2014 by the Harrington Discovery Institute at University Hospitals and the American Society for Clinical Investigation (ASCI), honors physician-scientists who have moved science forward with achievements notable for innovation, creativity and potential for clinical application.

Dr. Jean Bennett and Dr. Albert Maguire are pioneers in retinal gene therapies, conducting their early work at a time when there were few guideposts. Working collaboratively for the past 30 years, they are widely recognized for persistence and dedication that has led to a first fully approved breakthrough treatment for blindness.

Drs. Bennet and Maguire’s striking results in a dog model of Leber’s congenital amaurosis (LCA), a rare genetic cause of blindness, provided support for human clinical trials, which reversed blindness in children and resulted in FDA approval of gene therapy to the eye.

Building on their work in LCA, the Bennett-Maguire team initiated a clinical trial for a second inherited retinal degeneration, Choroideremia, a disease leading to complete blindness in affected men by middle age. In doing so, they opened a path from laboratory to clinic in additional blinding diseases.

“The path from proof-of-concept to delivering a safe and effective treatment to patients is one that few physician-scientists are able to experience. Drs. Bennett and Maguire have achieved many ‘firsts’ through their groundbreaking work and have opened the gates for many new treatments to follow,” said Sohail F. Tavazoie, MD, PhD, Leon Hess Professor, The Rockefeller University and 2022-2023 President of the ASCI.

“The translational work of Drs. Bennett and Maguire has impacted the standard of care for patients living with congenital blindness and offered new hope where none existed. Their extraordinary achievements are precisely what the Harrington Prize seeks to recognize,” said Jonathan S. Stamler, MD, President, Harrington Discovery Institute, Robert S. and Sylvia K. Reitman Family Foundation Distinguished Professor of Cardiovascular Innovation and Professor of Medicine and of Biochemistry at University Hospitals and Case Western Reserve University.    

A committee composed of members of the ASCI Council and the Harrington Discovery Institute Scientific Advisory Board reviewed nominations from leading academic medical centers globally before selecting the 2023 Harrington Prize recipients.

In addition to sharing the Prize’s $20,000 honorarium, co-recipients Dr. Bennett and Dr. Maguire will deliver the Harrington Prize Lecture at the 2023 AAP/ASCI/APSA Joint Meeting on April 21, will be  featured speakers at the 2023 Harrington Scientific Symposium May 24-25, and will co-publish an essay in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

The Harrington Prize has recognized outstanding and diverse innovations in medicine:

  • 2014: Harry Dietz, MD, Johns Hopkins University, for his contributions to the understanding of the biology and treatment of Marfan syndrome, a disorder leading to deadly aneurysms in children and adults.
  • 2015: Douglas R. Lowy, MD, The National Cancer Institute, in recognition of his discoveries that led to the development of the Human Papillomavirus vaccine to prevent cervical cancer.
  • 2016: Jeffrey M. Friedman, MD, PhD, The Rockefeller University, for his discovery of leptin, which controls feeding behavior and is used to treat related clinical disorders.
  • 2017: Jointly awarded to Daniel J. Drucker, MD, Mount Sinai Hospital, Canada, Joel F. Habener, MD, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Jens J. Holst, MD, DMSc, University of Copenhagen, Denmark, for their discovery of incretin hormones and for the  translation of these findings into transformative therapies for major metabolic diseases such as diabetes.
  • 2018: Helen H. Hobbs, MD, UT Southwestern Medical Center, for the discovery of the link between a gene mutation (PCSK9) and lower levels of LDL, which has improved the treatment of high cholesterol.
  • 2019: Carl H. June, MD, University of Pennsylvania, for advancing the clinical application   of CAR T therapy for cancer treatment, and for his sustained contributions to the field of cellular immunology.
  • 2020: Stuart H. Orkin, MD, Harvard University, for breakthrough discoveries on red blood cells that offer new treatments for patients with sickle cell disease and beta-thalassemia, which are among the most common genetic disorders.
  • 2021: Warren J. Leonard, MD, and John J. O’Shea, MD, NIH, for their respective contributions to the field of immunology, from fundamental discovery to therapeutic impact.
  • 2022: James E. Crowe Jr., MD, and Michel C. Nussenzweig, MD, PhD, for their groundbreaking work, which has elucidated fundamental principles of the human immune response and enabled the use of human antibodies to treat COVID-19.