Napoleone Ferrara, MD
Napoleone Ferrara, MD, is best known for his 1989 discovery of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and its role in promoting angiogenesis—the formation of new blood vessels that can feed tumor growth. His findings led him to successfully engineer the first anti-VEGF therapy, composed of two major monoclonal antibody drugs used to treat multiple forms of cancer and intraocular neovascular diseases, including wet age-related macular degeneration. Ferrara also implicated VEGF in key physiological processes like skeletal growth and reproductive functions. In 1993, he demonstrated that inhibition of VEGF by specific monoclonal antibodies results in suppression of growth of a variety of tumors in vivo. His research has profoundly advanced basic understanding of how cancers develop and grow.
Ferrara earned his MD from the University of Catania Medical School in Italy in 1981. After completing research fellowships at the Reproductive Endocrinology Center (now the UCSF Center for Reproductive Health) and Cancer Research Institute (now the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center) at the University of California, San Francisco, Ferrara went to work at the biotechnology giant Genentech in 1988. It was there that he developed his pioneering anti-VEGF treatments before joining the faculty of the University of California, San Diego, as Distinguished Professor of Pathology in 2013.
Ferrara’s lab is currently focused on the biology of angiogenesis, the identification of its regulators, and in particular, the role of factors produced by myeloid cells and fibroblasts in refractoriness/resistance to VEGF inhibitors. Ferrara holds 70 patents and is the winner of the inaugural Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, the Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award, the General Motors Cancer Research Award, and the Pezcoller Foundation-AACR International Award for Cancer Research. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences.