She is awarded the Sjöberg Prize for laying the foundations of a cancer vaccine

Catherine J. Wu, of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, USA, is a pioneer in research that may result in the development of personalised vaccines to treat cancer. She is now awarded the Sjöberg Prize, worth one million US dollars, for her work.

This year’s Sjöberg Prize awards discoveries about how the body’s immune system can be activated and stimulated to fight cancer. These discoveries make it possible to develop vaccines that are personalised to each patient’s unique tumour.

In a not-too-distant future, vaccines of this type could be offered to a large group of patients with types of cancers that are currently difficult or impossible to cure.

“Catherine Wu has been enormously important in moving forward research in this field. She has played a decisive role in making it possible to conduct clinical trials of cancer vaccines for melanoma (skin cancer), pancreatic cancer and lung cancer,” says Urban Lendahl, Professor of Genetics at Karolinska Institutet and Secretary of the Prize Committee.

Creates targets for the immune system

That the immune system can discover and, in some cases, fight tumours has been known since the 1950s. Using these insights, various strategies have been employed to develop immunotherapy-based cancer treatments.

Catherine J. Wu has focused her research on small mutations in cancer cells, which give rise to tumour neoantigens. These are structures that the immune system’s T cells can recognise as foreign and attack. By sequencing DNA from healthy cells and cancer cells, she was able to identify a cancer patient’s unique tumour neoantigens. She then produced synthetic copies of these, which were injected as a type of vaccine. For some of the patients, this resulted in the immune system’s cells being activated and targeting the tumour cells.

Her breakthrough results were published in an article in Nature in 2017, which describes an initial trial in which six patients with melanoma were vaccinated with patient-specific neoantigens. Since then, Wu and other researchers have continued to further develop this technique. However, development is still at an early stage, so the research funding part of the Sjöberg Prize, 900,000 US dollars, will be of great benefit for continued research.

Altered the treatment landscapes

“I’m a strong supporter and believer in innovation that comes from academic medicine. To be able to support risk-taking and trying to generate new and disruptive findings, ones that can help build and be impactful for patient care, I think that’s where we hope the support from this prize can go,” says Wu, who was positively surprised to be told that she had been awarded the  Sjöberg Prize 2024. “I’m speechless, utterly delighted. I appreciate recognising me, but this also recognises strong team science and collaboration that has really altered the treatment landscapes for patients. This is something we have developed together, as a group.”

Prize citation

“for discoveries concerning tumour neoantigens and the immune response to tumour cells as a basis for cancer vaccine development.”

FACTS The Laureate

Catherine J. Wu was born in New York, NY, USA in 1966. She gained her medical degree from Stanford University School of Medicine, CA, USA in 1994 and now leads the Division of Stem Cell Transplantation and Cellular Therapies at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, MA, USA. She is also Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston and member of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Cambridge, MA, USA.

Catherine J. Wu, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

FACTS The Sjöberg Prize

The prize is awarded in partnership between the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and the Sjöberg Foundation. The Foundation also provides the funding. The prize was established using a donation from businessman Bengt Sjöberg, who died from cancer in 2017. It is to be awarded to a person or persons who have made decisive contributions to cancer research, and amounts to 100,000 US dollars as a personal prize and 900,000 US dollars as funding for continued research. The Sjöberg Prize 2024 will be presented by the king Carl XVI Gustaf at the Academy’s Annual Meeting on 12 April. The Sjöberg Prize Lecture will be held the same day at Karolinska Institutet.



Urban Lendahl, Professor of Genetics, Karolinska Institutet
+46-70-844 65 12

Hans-Gustaf Ljunggren, Professor in Immunology, Karolinska Institutet
+46-70-533 46 99

Press contact

Eva Nevelius, Press Secretary, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
+46-70-878 67 63