Industry News: Dr. Tak W. Mak, PhD, FAACR, selected for 2023 AACR international award

14 Mar 2023

The Pezcoller Foundation - American 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 which will take pace from 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 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. 

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. 

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.