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Chemist at La Jolla’s Scripps Research wins the Wolf Prize, a possible precursor to the Nobel

Benjamin Cravatt will share the Wolf Prize in chemistry for his insights about proteins that shape human health.
Benjamin Cravatt will share the Wolf Prize in chemistry for his insights about proteins that shape human health.
(Howard Lipin / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Benjamin Cravatt’s insights have helped in the fight against cancer.

A chemist at Scripps Research in La Jolla whose insights are helping in the development of anti-cancer drugs has won the 2022 Wolf Prize, an award that for many scientists has been a precursor to winning the Nobel Prize.

Benjamin Cravatt earned the honor for greatly broadening scientists’ understanding of proteins, which are essential to creating and sustaining a body’s tissues and organs. He will share the Wolf Prize in chemistry with Bonnie Basler of Princeton University and Carolyn Bartucci of Stanford. They are among 11 people honored this year in the fields of physics, chemistry, mathematics, medicine, agriculture and the arts.

Cravatt’s work has led to better and faster ways to identify proteins that might form the basis for therapeutic drugs, especially to fight cancer, which kills nearly 600,000 people a year in the United States.

Cravatt, 51, co-founded Activx Biosciences, Vividion and Abide Therapeutics to try to transform basic discoveries into new drugs, adding to San Diego’s array of life science and biotech companies.

Previous winners of the Wolf Prize have included physicist Stephen Hawking, painter Jasper Johns and biologist Jennifer Doudna, co-founder of CRISPR, an evolutionary gene editing tool.

In chemistry, the Wolf Prize is considered second only to the Nobel in prestige.

Cravatt is the seventh scientist with links to Scripps Research to win the Wolf Prize. His predecessors include chemist K. Barry Sharpless, who won the Nobel months later.

The Wolf also went to late Scripps President Richard Lerner, who helped develop the bestselling drug Humira, and to biochemist James Allison, who trained at Scripps and also went on to win the Nobel.

Cravatt’s award comes less than six months after Scripps biochemist Ardem Patapoutian won the Nobel in physiology or medicine for helping to discover cell receptors that enable people to sense heat, cold, pain, touch and sound.

“I am howling with joy for my great friend and colleague Ben Cravatt for this recognition,” Patapoutian said on Twitter. ◆