The 800,000 euro (1.2-million-dollar) Millennium Technology Prize has been awarded to an American professor, who is responsible for inventing controlled drug release.
Robert Langer, 59, is a chemical engineering professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
He used controlled drug release for the first time in 1986, when he and neurosurgeon Henry Brem devised chemotherapy wafers used to treat brain cancer.
The wafer, the size of a small coin, releases the cancer drug slowly in the area from which a tumour has been removed, killing any remaining cancer cells on the spot and causing fewer side effects on other organs than traditional drugs.
This so-called intelligent drug release is also used to treat heart disease and other diseases.
Over 100 million people a year use advanced drug delivery systems, a number that is rising rapidly, according to the prize committee.
Langer has also made innovations in tissue engineering, including synthetic replacement for biological tissues such as artificial skin.
In the future, tissue engineering could revolutionise medical treatment that could affect millions of people, the jury said.
"Langer's innovations have saved human lives and improved the lives of millions of patients," Maria Makarow, chairwoman of the international selection committee said in a statement.
The Millennium Technology Prize was created in 2002 and is awarded every two years to celebrate "an outstanding innovation that directly promotes people's quality of life, is based on humane values and encourages sustainable economic development," according to its founding charter.
Funded by the Finnish state and several companies, it was first awarded in 2004 to Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the World Wide Web, and in 2006 it was given to Shuji Nakamura, for his invention of LED light sources and the "blue laser."