British biologist Gregory Winter and U.S. pathologist Richard A. Lerner were awarded Spain's Prince of Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific Research on Thursday for their "decisive" contributions to the field of immunology.

They beat out more than 40 other candidates from 19 countries to obtain the honor.

The jury said after deliberating in this northern Spanish city that Winter and Lerner were chosen "for their decisive contributions to the field of immunology and, in particular, for obtaining antibodies of major therapeutic value."

"Winter has discovered the way to modify antibody-producing animal cells so that these can function in the human organism without being rejected," the jury said.

"Lerner's creation of combinatorial libraries of antibodies enables the construction of immunological repertoires far superior to those produced by the human immune system," it added.

"As a result of their research, it is now possible to treat degenerative diseases and tumors with specifically designed antibodies, opening up new avenues for personalized medicine, preventive medicine and other applications such as chemical catalysis," the jury said.

Geneticist Helen Hobbs, oncologist Charles L. Sawyers, neurologist Vladimir Hachinski and engineers Kirill N. Shikhaev and Victor A. Anokhin also were among those in the running for the award.

"It is my honor to accept this prestigious award together with Sir Greg. This is a wonderful recognition for the field of immunochemistry and combinatorial antibody libraries and all that they have contributed to human health," Lerner said in a statement.

Winter, for his part, said "therapeutic antibodies are revolutionizing the treatment of cancer and autoimmune diseases" and that he is "honored to have been selected for this award from among the band of scientists who ... helped to make antibodies mainstream pharmaceutical drugs."

Past recipients include pioneers in the development of the Internet Lawrence Roberts, Robert Kahn, Vinton Cerf and Tim Berners-Lee; British ethologist Jane Goodall; Portuguese neurologist Antonio Damasio; and engineers Raymond Samuel Tomlinson and Martin Cooper, who were conferred the honor for their contributions to the development of e-mail and mobile telephony.

The prize carries a cash award of 50,000 euros (about $62,000), a sculpture by Joan Miro that represents and symbolizes the awards, a diploma and an insignia bearing the Prince of Asturias Foundation's coat of arms.

The prizes, which Spain's crown prince will hand out at a ceremony in the fall in Oviedo, are regarded as the Ibero-American world's equivalent of the Nobels. EFE