Twenty Years Of Honoring A Legacy: Three Investigators Named Winners of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s 2021 Paul Marks Prize for Cancer Research

Paul Marks Prize 2021 winners

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) is proud to announce three innovative investigators as the recipients of this year’s Paul Marks Prize for Cancer Research. The prize, named in honor of MSK’s past President Emeritus, the late Paul Marks, MD, recognizes a new generation of leaders in cancer research who are making significant contributions to the understanding of cancer or are improving the treatment of the disease through basic or clinical research. The winners, all under the age of 50, will share a cash award of $150,000. They will present their work at a series of lectures hosted by MSK in March 2022.

The winners of the 2021 Paul Marks Prize are Ralph J. DeBerardinis, MD, PhD​, of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center​; Sun Hur, PhD,​ of Boston Children’s Hospital; and Charles Swanton, MBBS, PhD​, of the Francis Crick Institute, United Kingdom. 

“We are always looking for ways to encourage innovation in basic and clinical science, and the winners selected for this year’s Paul Marks Prize represent the promise of that future,” said Craig B.Thompson, MD, MSK’s President and CEO. “Throughout his career, Paul Marks helped to set MSK — and the wider field of oncology — on a more scientific course. He was an inspiring scientific leader, dedicated mentor, and a true visionary. I cannot think of a better way to honor Dr. Marks’ profound legacy than by recognizing these three outstanding scientists and the work they are doing to advance cancer research.”

A committee of prominent members of the cancer research community — chaired by M. Celeste Simon, PhD, the Arthur H. Rubenstein, MBBCh Professor in the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine — selected the winners.

About the Recipients

Ralph J. DeBerardinis, MD, PhD

Ralph J. DeBerardinis, MD, PhD, is a professor at the Children’s Medical Center Research Institute at UT Southwestern and an investigator in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Dr. DeBerardinis studies the role of altered metabolic states in human disease, including metabolic diseases in children and cancer. To determine which metabolic pathways are most important for tumor growth and survival, his lab uses isotope-labeled nutrients to track how tumor tissues use energy sources. The long-term goal of this research is to develop new drugs that destroy cancer cells by targeting their use of nutrients. Dr. DeBerardinis earned his MD and PhD degrees from the University of Pennsylvania.

Sun Hur, PhD

Sun Hur, PhD, is an Oscar M. Schloss Professor at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital and an investigator in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. In her lab, Dr. Hur studies the innate immune system — in particular, how host cells distinguish between self and non-self nucleic acids. She has used her expertise in chemistry and structural biology to address vital questions in this field. Her research has led to the discovery of mechanisms for key signaling pathways that play a role in both the immune response and pathogenesis of a wide range of immune disorders. It also can be applied to the development of new kinds of cancer immunotherapy. Dr. Hur earned her PhD degree from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Charles Swanton, MBBS, PhD

Charles Swanton, MBBS, PhD, is a Royal Society Napier Professor, Cancer Research UK (CRUK) Chief Clinician, and Chair of Personalized Cancer Medicine at University College London (UCL). He is also director of the CRUK UCL/Manchester Lung Cancer Centre of Excellence and Senior Group Leader for Cancer Evolution and Genome Instability Laboratory at the Francis Crick Institute. Dr. Swanton is a thoracic oncologist who in the lab studies the instability of the cancer genome in the context of the cell cycle and its impact on clinical outcome, drug resistance, and immune surveillance. His research into how cancer cells evolve has important implications for understanding how tumors develop resistance to targeted therapies. Dr. Swanton earned his MBBS and PhD degrees from UCL.

Celebrating a Visionary Leader in Cancer Research

Honoring the legacy of the late Paul A. Marks, MD — a distinguished scientist and leader who served as President of MSK for nearly two decades — the Paul Marks Prize for Cancer Research recognizes early and mid-career investigators who have made significant contributions to increasing the understanding of cancer.

Dr. Marks served as President and CEO of MSK from 1980 to 1999. His visionary leadership touched every corner of MSK, and as a world-class scientist in his own right, he played an enormous role in making the Sloan Kettering Institute one of the world’s premier biomedical research centers. The Paul Marks Prize for Cancer Research is awarded every other year to up to three investigators. Since it was first presented in 2001, the prize has recognized 34 scientists and awarded a total of more than $1 million in prize money.

Throughout his scientific tenure, Dr. Marks was continually inspired by early discoveries about blood cells, He came to believe that more-effective cancer treatments would come from scientists gaining a deeper knowledge of fundamental biological processes, particularly at the molecular level. He began looking for ways to transform oncology into a research-driven science. His observations would result in the 2006 US Food and Drug Administration approval of vorinostat (Zolinza®), a drug used to treat certain types of lymphoma.

Dr. Marks died on April 28, 2020. Throughout his life, Dr. Marks’ expertise and leadership were sought and honored widely. He served as a member of US presidential panels on cancer and biomedical research. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine, and the American Philosophical Society, and he was a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. To honor his contributions to science, President George H. W. Bush awarded him the National Medal of Science in 1991. Over his long career, Dr. Marks published more than 350 scientific articles in scholarly journals and served as editor in chief of the Journal of Clinical Investigation.