Foundation for the NIH Awards 2021 Trailblazer Prize for Clinician-Scientists to Piro Lito, M.D.

NORTH BETHESDA, MD, October 21, 2021 – The Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH) has awarded its annual Trailblazer Prize for Clinician-Scientists to Piro Lito, M.D., Ph.D., Associate Member and Attending Physician at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Dr. Lito received the Trailblazer Prize, along with a $10,000 honorarium, for catalyzing breakthroughs in the understanding of oncoprotein signaling and the development of novel therapeutic approaches for cancers driven by the mutant KRAS protein. His fundamental research directly translates to patients and he served as one of the principal investigators of the first-in­-human clinical trial testing the effect of KRAS G12C inhibitors, work that helped establish the first FDA-approved KRAS-directed therapy for patients with lung cancer. The Trailblazer Prize is made possible by a generous donation from John I. Gallin, M.D., and Elaine K. Gallin, Ph.D., to the FNIH.

Now in its fourth year, the Trailblazer Prize recognizes the outstanding contributions of early career clinician-scientists whose research translates basic scientific observations into new paradigm-shifting approaches for diagnosing, preventing, treating, or curing disease and disability.

Dr. Lito is an Associate Member and Attending Physician in the Human Oncology and Pathogenesis Program at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Working at the interface of basic research and clinical practice, he studies how mutated proteins drive tumor growth. He is particularly interested in a protein called KRAS, which is commonly mutated in lung, colorectal, and pancreatic cancers. Dr. Lito has uncovered how mutant KRAS transitions between its active and inactive states in cancer cells, and, by exposing vulnerable events during this transition, he has made key contributions to the development of novel therapies that are currently in clinical trials. Dr. Lito earned his M.D.-Ph.D. degree from Michigan State University, followed by residency training in Internal Medicine at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center at Harvard Medical School, and a fellowship in Medical Oncology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. He has also been recognized with the Pew-Stewart Scholar in Cancer Research and the Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator awards.

“It is thrilling to watch clinician-scientists, such as Dr. Piro Lito, combine their experience at the clinical and research levels to find solutions to biomedical challenges that directly translate to better lives for their patients. We applaud Dr. Lito for his groundbreaking work bringing us closer to successful cancer therapies,” said Steven M. Paul, M.D., Chairman of the Board, FNIH.

The Trailblazer Prize was bestowed upon Dr. Lito at the 2021 FNIH Awards Ceremony the evening of October 20, 2021. To view a recording of the Awards Ceremony, click here.

“I am honored and humbled to be the recipient of the Trailblazer Prize for Clinician-Scientists,” said Dr. Lito. “The work recognized by this award reflects a tremendous effort by the members of my laboratory and close collaborations with a remarkable group of physicians and scientists at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and partnering institutions.”

Dr. Lito was selected as the 2021 Trailblazer Prize recipient by a jury of distinguished biomedical research leaders. Michael J. Welsh, M.D., Ph.D., Director, Pappajohn Biomedical Institute, University of Iowa, served as Chair of the Trailblazer Prize jury, alongside the following members:

  • Barry Coller, M.D., Vice President for Medical Affairs, Physician in Chief, David Rockefeller Professor
  • Michael Fox, M.D., Ph.D., Associate Professor of Neurology, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School; 2018 FNIH Trailblazer Prize Recipient
  • Helen H. Hobbs, M.D., Professor of Internal Medicine and Molecular Genetics, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center
  • John I. Gallin, M.D., NIH Associate Director for Clinical Research and Chief Scientific Officer, NIH Clinical Center
  • Crystal Mackall, M.D., Ernest and Amelia Gallo Family Professor of Pediatrics and Internal Medicine, Stanford University
  • Steven M. Paul, M.D., Chairman of the Board, FNIH; Chief Executive Officer and Chairman, Karuna Therapeutics, Inc., and Venture Partner at Third Rock Ventures

The FNIH is grateful to Fred and Donna Seigel and Novalis LifeSciences for being Visionary Sponsors of the 2021 FNIH Awards Ceremony.

For more information about the Trailblazer Prize, visit


About the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH): The Foundation for the National Institutes of Health creates and manages alliances with public and private institutions in support of the mission of the NIH, the world’s premier medical research agency. FNIH works with its partners to accelerate biomedical research and strategies against diseases and health concerns in the United States and across the globe. The FNIH organizes and administers research projects; supports education and training of new researchers; organizes educational events and symposia; and administers a series of funds supporting a wide range of health issues. Established by Congress in 1990, the FNIH is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) charitable organization.

For more information about the FNIH, please visit

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