The FNIH Awards 2023 Trailblazer Prize for Clinician-Scientists to Vinod Balachandran, M.D., from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center for Pancreatic Cancer Research
NORTH BETHESDA, MD, August 24, 2023 – The Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH) has awarded its sixth annual Trailblazer Prize for Clinician-Scientists to Vinod Balachandran, M.D., at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK), for his groundbreaking research on immunotherapies for pancreatic cancer. The FNIH’s Trailblazer Prize recognizes the outstanding contributions of early career clinician-scientists whose research translates basic discovery research into novel approaches for diagnosing, preventing, treating, or curing disease and disability.
Dr. Balachandran discovered that rare long-term survivors of pancreatic cancer have unique tumors enriched in neoantigens – foreign proteins arising from cancer mutations – which may trigger immune cells to keep pancreatic cancers in check. He is now translating these laboratory discoveries into new immunotherapies for pancreatic cancer, including the first clinical trials of personalized mRNA vaccines that target neoantigens to provoke the patient’s immune system to recognize their individual cancer. This pioneering work has the potential to transform the treatment of pancreatic cancer, one of the deadliest malignancies, and provide proof of concept for future cancer vaccines.
“The results from Dr. Balachandran’s early clinical studies of mRNA vaccines for pancreatic cancers are inspiring hope that we may finally see progress in treating this deadly malignancy,” said Julie Gerberding, FNIH President and CEO. “His drive to transform basic science discoveries quickly and safely into treatments for patients demonstrates the innovative research that we celebrate by honoring outstanding clinician-scientists with the Trailblazer Prize.”
Dr. Balachandran is a physician-scientist in the Immuno-Oncology Service of the Human Oncology and Pathogenesis Program and a surgical oncologist at MSK, where he specializes in treating people with pancreatic cancer. He is also immunology group leader in the David M. Rubenstein Center for Pancreatic Cancer Research at MSK.
“Patients with pancreatic cancer urgently need better treatments. I am thrilled that our research may unlock the potential to use customized vaccines to combat this deadly disease,” said Dr. Balachandran. “I am deeply honored and humbled to receive the Trailblazer Prize, which recognizes the remarkable team effort of dedicated members of my laboratory and exceptional collaborators within and outside of MSK. We are determined to build on this work to make progress in combatting pancreatic and other cancers.”
A jury of distinguished biomedical research leaders selected Dr. Balachandran as the 2023 Trailblazer Prize recipient. Michael J. Welsh, M.D., Ph.D., Director, Pappajohn Biomedical Institute, University of Iowa, chaired the Trailblazer Prize jury, that also included Howard Y. Chang, M.D., Ph.D.; Barry S. Coller, M.D.; John I. Gallin, M.D.; Helen H. Hobbs, M.D.; Timothy J. Ley, M.D.; Kelsey C. Martin, M.D., Ph.D.; Steven M. Paul, M.D.; and Christine E. Seidman, M.D.
The 2023 Trailblazer Prize includes an honorarium for Dr. Balachandran, made possible by a generous donation from John I. Gallin, M.D., and Elaine Gallin, Ph.D., to the FNIH. The prize will be awarded at the FNIH 11th Annual Awards Ceremony on the evening of October 18, 2023, in Washington, D.C. The FNIH 2023 Lurie Prize in Biomedical Sciences and the Charles A. Sanders, M.D., Partnership Award will also be presented during the Awards Ceremony.
Dr. Balachandran will share his research at the 2024 AAP/ASCI/APSA Joint Meeting in Chicago occurring April 5-7. This combined annual gathering of the Association of American Physicians, the American Society for Clinical Investigation, and the American Physician Scientists Association features presentations of high-level discoveries from distinguished researchers.
The FNIH gratefully acknowledges its Awards Ceremony Visionary Sponsors: The Gerberding-Rose Family Fund, GSK, Judy and Peter Blum Kovler Foundation, The Edmond J. Safra Foundation, and Fred and Donna Seigel and many other benefactors.
For more information about the Trailblazer Prize, visit fnih.org/TrailblazerPrize.
About the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH)
The Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH) builds agile platforms, based on a team science approach, that connect leading biomedical scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) with their counterparts in life sciences companies, academia, and foundations. Together, we solve complex health challenges and accelerate breakthroughs for patients, regardless of who they are, where they live, or what disease they have. FNIH seeks new therapies, diagnostics, and potential cures; advances global health and equity in care; and celebrates and helps train the next generations of scientists. Established by Congress in 1990 to support the mission of the NIH, the FNIH is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) charitable organization. For more information about the FNIH, please visit fnih.org
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