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Tak W. Mak, PhD, FAACR, Selected for 2023 Pezcoller Foundation-AACR International Award for Extraordinary Achievement in Cancer Research

PHILADELPHIA – The Pezcoller FoundationAmerican Association for Cancer Research (AACR) International Award for Extraordinary Achievement in Cancer Research will be presented to Tak W. Mak, PhD, Fellow of the AACR Academy, during the AACR Annual Meeting 2023, April 14-19 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida.

Mak is a senior scientist at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, University Health Network, as well as a university professor in the departments of medical biophysics and immunology at the Temerty Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto and a professor in the department of pathology at the University of Hong Kong. He is being recognized for leading the group that cloned the human T-cell receptor beta chain, a key component of the immune response, which has helped stimulate a remarkable series of advances in cancer immunology research. He is also being recognized for his enormous contributions to cancer biology, highlighted by his generation of genetically modified mouse models, which have allowed for in-depth investigations into cancer initiation and progression.

The Pezcoller Foundation-AACR International Award for Extraordinary Achievement in Cancer Research was established in 1997 to recognize a scientist who has made a major scientific discovery in basic or translational cancer research. The awardee must be active in cancer research, have a record of recent noteworthy publications, and conduct ongoing work that holds promise for continued substantive contributions to progress in the field of cancer.

Mak’s group was among the first to generate genetically modified mouse models to study the molecular mechanisms driving immune system development and control and how perturbations to such processes contribute to tumorigenesis. His examinations of these mouse models helped elucidate critical intracellular signaling pathways that govern immune responses, malignant cell transformation, cellular survival, and programmed cell death. His discoveries have had a substantial translational impact; his team demonstrated that CTLA-4 is a negative regulator of T-cell activation, a finding that James P. Allison, PhD, FAACR, later leveraged to conceptualize and design the first immune checkpoint inhibitor employed as a cancer therapeutic. Mak’s characterization of T-cell receptors has also paved the way for the development of CAR T-cell technology, a treatment option now approved for certain leukemias and lymphomas. Mak’s work on oncogenic IDH enzymes also led to the development of IDH1/2 inhibitors and their subsequent approval for the treatment of acute myeloid leukemia. His group is currently investigating how various IDH mutations are capable of driving brain and blood cancer malignancies and confer the ability of cancer cells to survive under harsh environmental conditions that would normally result in cell death. He has also recently bolstered the concept that immune responses are connected directly to the nervous system through effector T cell secretion of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.

“Dr. Mak is a pioneer in cancer immunology, and he continues to break important new ground,” said Margaret Foti, PhD, MD (hc), chief executive officer of the AACR. “His discoveries have helped to provide the scientific foundation for the immunotherapy revolution, which has saved and extended so many lives from cancer. We are deeply honored to present Dr. Mak with this most prestigious of awards in our field.”

“We are especially happy and proud that the Pezcoller Foundation-AACR International Award will be given this year to Tak Mak, a pioneer of modern cancer immunology, who also elucidated many crucial mechanisms of the cancer cell, from carcinogenesis to survival in a hostile environment, and the close connection between the immune and the nervous systems,” said Enzo Galligioni, MD, president of the Pezcoller Foundation. “Because of the exceptional nature of his discoveries and the continuity of his research, he ranks among the greatest scientists who have deserved to win the Pezcoller-AACR Award. We are grateful to AACR for our 25-year partnership, which always recognizes and rewards the best cancer researchers.”

Mak joined the AACR in 1990 and was elected as a Fellow of the AACR Academy in 2013. Mak is a scientific editor of the AACR journal Cancer Discovery. He is also an advisory board member for the Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C)-Lustgarten Foundation Pancreatic Cancer Interception Dream Team. The AACR serves as the Scientific Partner of SU2C. He has been involved with numerous AACR committees, including as a member of the AACR Princess Takamatsu Memorial Lectureship Committee (2020-2022), member of the AACR Nominating Committee (2018-2020), cochair of the AACR Annual Meeting Program Committee (2018-2019), ex officio member of the Board of Directors of AACR International – Canada (2017-2019), chair of the Regional Advisory Subcommittee – Canada (2016-2019), member of the AACR International Affairs Committee (2015-2018), member of the AACR Outstanding Investigator Award for Breast Cancer Research Committee (2015-2016), member of the AACR-Millennium Fellowship in Hematologic Malignancies Research Committee (2014-2016), and member of the AACR Special Conferences Committee (2011-2017).

Mak’s scientific achievements have been recognized with numerous awards and honors, including the Canadian Cancer Society Lifetime Contribution Award (2022), the National Foundation for Cancer Research Albert Szent-Györgyi Prize for Progress in Cancer Research (2021), the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC) Team Science Award (2020), the Weinman Award (2019), the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Gold Leaf Prize for Discovery (2018-2019), the Anthony Cerami Award in Translational Medicine (2016), the German Signal Transduction Society Honorary Medal (2016), the University of British Columbia Faculty of Medicine Dr. Chew Wei Memorial Prize in Cancer Research (2014), the Premier’s Summit Award in Medical Research (2007), the Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize (2004), the Canada Council for the Arts Killam Prize (2003), the General Motors Cancer Research Foundation Alfred P. Sloan Jr. Prize (1996), the National Cancer Institute of Canada Robert L. Noble Prize (1996), the King Faisal Prize for Medicine (1995), the Royal Society of Canada McLaughlin Medal (1990), the Gairdner Foundation International Award (1989), and the Emil von Behring Prize (1988).

Mak was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame (2009), awarded the Order of Ontario (2007), and selected as an Officer of the Order of Canada (2000). He is an elected Fellow of the Academy of Immuno-Oncology (2022), member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences (2005), Foreign Associate of the National Academy of Sciences (2002), Fellow of the Royal Society of London (1994), and Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (1986).

He received his undergraduate degree in biochemistry and master’s in biophysics from the University of Wisconsin. He completed his PhD in biochemistry at the University of Alberta.

Mak’s award lecture will be presented on Sunday, April 16, at noon ET.

Download a photo of Dr. Mak