John Eng, MD, was recently named as the latest winner of the Golden Goose Awards. Eng is the second winner announced in 2013, and others will be named in the coming weeks. The Golden Goose Award was created last year to celebrate researchers whose seemingly odd or obscure federally funded research turned out to have a significant, positive impact on society.
Eng, a one-time researcher with the Veterans Administration in New York City, discovered that the venom contained in the bite of a Gila monster — a lizard native to the southwest U.S. and northwest Mexico — had components that could aid diabetics. His research was funded by the VA and built on previous studies funded by the National Institutes of Health.
Soon after, Eng purchased a booth at the annual meeting of the American Diabetes Association, a Research!America member, touting his discovery. He caught the attention of a then-small biotech, Amylin Pharmaceuticals. Amylin developed the discovery into a drug that won approval from the Food and Drug Administration in 2005. Since then, the drug — Byetta — has proven effective at helping diabetics moderate their blood sugar.
“Medicine from monsters and venom may sound like a science-fiction novel, but it’s a real-life breakthrough,” said Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN), who first proposed the Golden Goose Award. “Dr. Eng’s research shows that we can’t abandon science funding only because we don’t know where it might lead. Just ask millions of diabetics whose lives have been improved by his discovery.”
“Dr. Eng’s research demonstrates the necessity of federally supported basic research,” said Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA), another congressional supporter of the Golden Goose Award. “In 1992, there was no way of knowing that Gila monster venom contained a compound that would one day change the lives of millions of diabetics. We owe it to future generations to lay the groundwork now for tomorrow’s breakthroughs.”