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Two US scientists, whose work has contributed to creating immunological treatments for cancer, and an Indian economist are among the winners of this year's Balzan Prizes announced today, recognising scholarly and scientific achievements.
James Allison of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and Robert Schreiber of the Washington University School of Medicine were cited for their work on antibody treatments that has increased the survival of patients with metastatic melanoma.
Other winners included Indian economist Bina Agarwal, a professor at the University of Manchester, recognised in the gender studies category for her "heroic" work studying women's contributions to agriculture in India.
Belgian astrophysicist Michael Gillon was awarded for his work that has helped map new solar systems from the comfort of planet Earth, using robotic telescopes instead of much more costly satellites.
Germans Aleida and Jan Assmann, a married couple was recognised for their work presenting collective memory "as a requirement for the formation of the identity of religious and political communities."
The Balzan Foundation awards two prizes in the sciences and two in the humanities each year, rotating specialties to highlight new or emerging areas of research and sustain fields that might be overlooked elsewhere.
Recipients receive 750,000 Swiss francs (USD 790,000), half of which must be used for research, preferably by young scholars or scientists.
Nobel Prize-winner Jules Hoffman, a presenter of the awards, said the work focusing on using the immune system to fight cancer, expanding from the traditional treatments of removal, radiation and chemotherapy, has already had success in 25 to 30 per cent of melanoma patients in a study who had previously gone through the traditional battery of treatments. It is now being developed for small cell lung cancer and rectal cancer.
This year, the Balzan Foundation also awarded a fifth prize, in international relations, which was deferred from last year after the committee failed to reach agreement on a winner.
It went to Robert O Keohane of the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University, best known for his influential 1984 book "After Hegemony: Cooperation and Discord in the World Political Economy."
Prizes will be awarded in Bern, Switzerland, on November 17.