Congratulating the 2017 Brain Prize Winners
On an athletic field, a stage, a classroom, or in countless other venues, at some point, we’ve all felt the powerful rush of success. Whether it’s a goal scored, a standing ovation, or a professor’s pat on the back, finding motivation in achievement is a definitive and uniquely human experience. The hunger to recapture that feeling of accomplishment is what causes us to wake up early and stay up late, to study longer, rehearse again, and practice more. It’s the impulse that has written masterpieces, cured plagues, and taken humanity into outer space.
As it turns out, it is also this impulse – wired deep into our chemistry – that contributes to some of the most common, costly, and tragic diseases we face as a society, including compulsive gambling, drug addiction and schizophrenia.
Today marks the beginning of Brain Awareness Week, which celebrates the incredible progress we’ve made in neuroscience. At Lundbeck, this week has great meaning, as we have dedicated more than 70 years to the challenge of developing treatments for psychiatric and neurological disorders. In addition to our own efforts, our relationship with brain research extends through the work of our largest shareholder: The Lundbeck Foundation.
In 1954, thanks to the vision and foresight of Grete Lundbeck, the Lundbeck Foundation was founded to oversee the growth of Lundbeck as a company and to fund independent scientific research with a special focus on the brain. Seven decades later, The Lundbeck Foundation has not only helped guide Lundbeck from a small Danish marketing firm with a nascent laboratory to a true global leader in pharmaceuticals, but on an annual basis, it now provides more than $100M in research grants.
Each year, the Lundbeck Foundation awards €1M (a sum greater than the Nobel Prize) to pioneers in brain research: We call this the Brain Prize. This year’s winners – Peter Dayan, Ray Dolan, and Wolfram Schultz – were selected in recognition of their contributions to the understanding of the brain’s “reward system,” how it impacts decision-making, learning and memory, and how, for some, it can lead to or heighten diseases like compulsive gambling, schizophrenia, and drug addiction.
Roughly 450 million people around the world – more than the entire population of the United States – are currently living with a brain disorder, ranging from diseases that are tragically common, like depression, to ones that are incredibly rare. While they vary vastly in pathology, strike at different junctures in life, and present symptoms unique to each patient, they share a common ability to tear people off course.
Over the coming decades, the global medical community faces an opponent in brain disorders like we’ve never encountered. These diseases are diverse, complex, and massive in scale. They exist in the dark, hidden among the 100 billion nerve cells in our brains, making it difficult to identify where they begin, how they progress, and whether – or why – treatments work. There will be no single solution to any of these diseases, and no single insight will light our path forward. Instead, it is going to require a massive collaboration among researchers and academics like Peter Dayan, Ray Dolan, and Wolfram Schultz, pharmaceutical companies like Lundbeck, other research organizations on the leading edge of innovation, and governments around the world.
Today, thanks to the work of our Brain Prize winners and thousands of other brilliant scientists, we know more about the brain than at any point in history. While I know there is no finish line in sight, this Brain Awareness Week, I am more confident than ever that success will eventually be had.