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UNM alum shares $3M life sciences prize

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A University of New Mexico alumnus has won the 2019 Breakthrough Prize in life sciences.

Frank Bennett will share the $3 million payout with his collaborator, Adrian Krainer.

Frank Bennett, a winner of the 2019 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences. (Courtesy Ionis Pharmaceuticals)

The prize is funded by several members of the technology elite, including the founders of Google, Facebook and 23andMe. The competition culminates in a star-studded award ceremony dubbed “the Oscars of science,” which will be held on Nov. 4 in Mountain View, Calif.

Bennett and Krainer were awarded the prize for their work on a treatment for spinal muscular atrophy, the leading genetic cause of infant death. They developed the medication nusinersen, also known as Spinraza, which alters a gene to create more of a specific type of protein in the body.

Bennett grew up in Aztec in a historic hotel now known as Miss Gail’s Inn. He graduated from UNM in 1980 and received his doctorate in pharmacology from Baylor University before co-founding Ionis Pharmaceuticals in Carlsbad, Calif.

Asked what he would do with the prize money, Bennett said he hadn’t spent much time thinking about it.

“I haven’t gotten that far,” he said. “I’ll probably give some to charity.”