Sanford Awards a Million Dollars to Gene Therapy Pioneers

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – Two women are now a million dollars richer after a big win in Sioux Falls Tuesday night. Their drug development for rare diseases is revolutionizing medicine forever.

“Well, I was pretty much speechless,” said Dr. High.

Doctor Katherine High and her research partner, Doctor Jean Bennett, have something big to celebrate.

The Philadelphia-based pair works with the gene therapies. Now, the pioneers have reversed an inherited form of blindness.

It’s a landmark accomplishment: receiving the first FDA approval of a gene therapy for a genetic disease.

“It is a one-time treatment that can have a long-lasting effect and essentially demedicalize a serious medical condition,” said High.

The Sanford International Board narrowed down 10,000 nominations to just three finalists. One board member says it was one of the toughest decisions he’s ever made.

“We are going to change the world, and to see what happened and [to] be able to pick Dr. High and Dr. Bennett, I just, I was just in tears because I know my future grandkids will live in a world where there will be a solution to their problem,” said Doctor Emmanuel Ohonme. “That parents won’t have to cry.”

While the pair appreciates the award, the true motivation is their patients. High remembers when the mother of a 12-year-old patient sent her a letter in the mail.

“What she wrote to me was ‘I don’t care if it works or not, but for him just to know that somebody is trying to make a difference made a big difference,’” said High.”So, sorry I’m breaking up a little bit here. I can never tell that story without – so that’s part of the reason patients are really important,” said High.

Now, they have a million dollars to continue making that difference.

The Sanford International Board voted eight to one to confirm High and Bennett as the winners.

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