The Lupus Foundation of America (LFA) announced today the  recipients of its most prestigious annual awards, naming Richard A. Furie, MD, Northwell Health as this year’s Evelyn V. Hess Award recipient and Melissa Cunningham, MD, PhD, The Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) as the Mary Betty Stevens Young Investigator Prize award winner.  

Side-by-side pictures of the 2021 Hess-Stevens awardees, Melissa Cunningham and Richard Furie.

Honoring Dr. Furie for Significant Impact in Advancing the Field of Lupus Research 

The Evelyn V. Hess Award was established in 2006 and is given annually to recognize the exceptional contributions of a clinical or basic researcher whose body of work has advanced the understanding of the science of lupus treatment.

Dr. Furie, Chief of the Division of Rheumatology at Northwell Health, Professor of Medicine at the Zucker School of Medicine, and the Marilyn and Barry Rubenstein Chair in Rheumatology, has dedicated his career to developing more effective and safer therapies for people with lupus. He directs The Program in Novel Therapeutics, the Health System’s clinical research program in musculoskeletal disease. As a clinical trialist with an expertise in the design and implementation of clinical trials, much of his clinical research efforts has focused on anti-rheumatic drug development. 

As a Professor in the Institute of Molecular Medicine at the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research, the science arm of Northwell Health, Dr. Furie has authored numerous studies of novel, innovative therapies including belimumab and, very recently, anifrolumab. He also directs the Northwell Health’s Systemic Lupus Erythematosus and Autoimmune Disease Treatment Center, which has become internationally recognized for its role in the development of new therapies for SLE. Recognized in the New York metropolitan area as a senior rheumatologist, Dr. Furie has served as an advisor for the LFA. For over twenty years he has served on many committees of the American College of Rheumatology and was named a Master of the College in 2018.

“I am pleasantly surprised by this recognition and truly honored to receive the Evelyn V. Hess Award from the Lupus Foundation of America,” said Dr. Furie. “Although the outlook for our patients has greatly improved since the 1950s, significant unmet needs have been present ever since. I am grateful to have contributed to improving the lives of our patients with lupus by addressing many of those unmet needs. Nevertheless, the successes we are now witnessing today, reflect the perseverance and dedication of the entire lupus community, which includes patients, clinicians, investigators, and industry. Our efforts will continue to pave the way for innovation.” 

Honoring Dr. Cunningham’s Exceptional Contributions to the Lupus Research Community 

Established in 2009, the annual Mary Betty Stevens Young Investigator Prize recognizes the remarkable accomplishments of an investigator in the early stages of their lupus career and memorializes Dr. Stevens’ outstanding contributions to lupus research throughout her career.

Dr. Cunningham, Associate Professor of Medicine at MUSC, has a great interest in women’s health issues, is committed to addressing disparities in health, and has focused much of her research career on why lupus is more prevalent in women. Dr. Cunningham’s work has focused on the role of nuclear hormone receptors, particularly the estrogen receptor, which has variants and isoforms that can change the way estrogen acts in different tissues. By advancing the understanding of estrogen receptor biology in immune cells, researchers may be able to harness that knowledge to develop targeted therapeutics, such as next generation selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs) that may treat lupus and other female-biased autoimmune diseases, without impacting reproductive tissues. 

“It is incredibly humbling to receive the Mary Betty Stevens Young Investigator Prize,” said Dr. Cunningham. “I have heard such amazing things about Dr. Stevens’ work in the field and her academic enthusiasm. She inspired many students to enter the field of rheumatology and to dedicate their careers to the study of lupus.  I will continue to work as hard as possible to advance lupus research, improve lupus patient care, and teach the next generation of rheumatologists in order to live up to the honor of this award.” 

Learn more about the Evelyn V. Hess Award,  Mary Betty Stevens Young Investigator Prize and our 2021 recipients.