French intensive care physician receives this year's international KFJ Award

Professor Elie Azoulay has received Rigshospitalet's international KFJ Award for his ground-breaking research on some of the most seriously ill intensive care patients with blood cancer.

Photo: The award ceremony for the International KFJ Award was held at Rigshospitalet and Professor Elie Azoulay held a presentation of his research.

Even in the best healthcare systems, more than half of intensive care patients with blood cancer die within three months. This year's recipient of Rigshospitalet's international KFJ Award, Professor Elie Azoulay from St. Louis Hospital in Paris, has had more success than almost any other researcher in improving the prognosis for this group of patients. Over the past seven years, Elie Azoulay has conducted some of his research in collaboration with Professor Perner's research group at Rigshospitalet. 

Anders Perner is a consultant at the Department of Intensive Care at the Centre for Cancer and Organ Diseases and he is a professor at the University of Copenhagen. Professor Perner nominated his French colleague for the KFJ Award, which is awarded every year to the best international researchers collaborating with Rigshospitalet. 

"As a specialist in haematology and an intensive care physician, Professor Elie Azoulay has provided excellent clinical work and research. His pioneering work has led to clear improvements in treatment and care for a seriously ill group of patients, whose survival rates have fortunately increased over the past decade," said Anders Perner.  

Elie Azoulay is the head of the Department of Medicine and Critical Care at St. Louis Hospital and has published more than 600 articles. He is behind ground-breaking research results published in JAMA and the New England Journal of Medicine, for example, and his research has contributed to changing clinical practice at intensive care departments. Elie Azoulay has been cited more than 40,000 times and has an h-index of 91 according to Web of Science. 

He also runs a multidisciplinary research group focusing on the families of patients in intensive care. His research team has focus on improving communication and cooperation between family members and clinical staff. 

Award dedicated to front-line staff

According to Elie Azoulay, the COVID-19 pandemic has sharpened political focus on the importance of well-run, research-based intensive care departments for critically ill patients. He would like to dedicate the award to front-line staff around the world who are still working hard to help patients with COVID-19.

"In this COVID-19 era, the award is recognition of the whole specialty of intensive care medicine and the tireless work of the hospital staff. Together with Rigshospitalet and others, we’ve succeeded in creating international research networks that save lives and improve patient outcomes,” said Professor Elie. 

Behind establishing a research network

The collaboration between Elie Azoulay and Anders Perner has developed such that today they are conducting joint clinical research programmes in the international NINE-i research network founded by Elie Azoulay in 2014. This research network builds on the success of the French GRR-OH network, also founded by Elie Azoulay in 2003.   

“It’s a privilege to work with Professor Perner and his excellent research group. They have a strong belief in the strength of research and they are great advocates for our cause to improve treatment for patients in intensive care. We’ve learned a lot about study design from them, and by working together, we’re more likely to find the best solutions to improve standard of care,” said Elie Azoulay.

So far, the French and Danish research groups have published eight articles together, and they have started working on the next improvements through joint research projects. Specifically, they will continue their joint research on acute respiratory failure in immunocompromised patients and treatment of low platelet counts in the most seriously ill patients. The KFJ Award will enable the research groups to develop their collaboration and the conduct clinical trials required to improve treatment faster, Anders Perner stressed. 

“We’re rather impatient when it comes to improving treatment for seriously ill patients," said Anders Perner.

Elie Azoulay has high hopes for a clinical trial in which together they will examine when to give a platelet transfusion to patients with a low platelet count. These blood products are a limited resource, and it is uncertain whether a relatively liberal use of such products will benefit or harm patients in intensive care. 

About the KFJ Award

Rigshospitalet’s International KFJ Award is named after Kirsten and Freddy Johansen. Their foundation donates the DKK1.5 million awarded annually.  

The award is presented to an internationally high-ranking researcher. The researcher may not be employed at Rigshospitalet, but he or she should have an existing collaboration with one or more international research communities at the hospital. 

In a globalised world, Rigshospitalet aims at cooperating with the best hospitals and researchers in the world.  The purpose of the award is therefore to strengthen the research community at Rigshospitalet by creating ties to international researchers and international research communities.   

The award was first presented in 2011. 

All senior researchers at Rigshospitalet may recommend a candidate for the award. An evaluation committee assesses recommended candidates.

Previous recipients of the KFJ Award​

  • 2020: John McMurray, Professor at University of Glasgow, Scotland.  
  • 2019: Kári Stefánsson, professor at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Iceland, CEO and founder of deCODE genetics. 
  • 2018: Jorma Toppari, professor in physiology at Turku University, Finland. 
  • 2017: Tom Eirik Mollnes, senior researcher at Nordland Sykehus in Bodø, Norway, professor in immunology at Oslo and Tromsø universities and professor at the Centre of Molecular Inflammation Research (CEMIR) at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim.
  • 2016: John E. Dick, professor and senior researcher at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre at the University Health Network in Toronto, Canada.
  • 2015: John C. Burnett, professor and cardiologist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, USA.
  • 2014: Mary Relling, pharmacist at the Pharmaceutical Department, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Memphis, Tennessee, USA.
  • 2013: Søren Bentzen, professor in epidemiology and radiotherapy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, USA
  • 2012: Tomas Olsson, professor in neurology at the Center for Molecular Medicine and the Department of Neurology at Karolinska Sjukhuset in Stockholm, Sweden
  • 2011: Bruce R. Rosen, professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School and Director of the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, USA.

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