ASCO Honors 2021 Special Awards Recipients

Apr 22, 2021

Researchers, patient advocates, and global oncology leaders who have worked to reshape cancer care around the world are among the recipients of ASCO Special Awards—the Society’s highest honors—and the Women Who Conquer Cancer Mentorship Awards from Conquer Cancer, the ASCO Foundation.   

“The recipients of this year’s Special Awards have made exceptional contributions to the oncology community,” said Monica M. Bertagnolli, MD, FACS, FASCO, ASCO past president and chair of the Joint Special Awards Selection Committee. “It is our honor to recognize their commitment to transforming cancer care and improving quality of life for people living with cancer.

David A. Karnofsky Memorial Award and Lecture

Maura L. Gillison, MD, PhD, is a distinguished professor of medicine and a Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas Scholar in Cancer Research at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Dr. Gillison is a physician-scientist who has made significant contributions to the identification of human papillomavirus (HPV) as a cause of a distinct subset of head and neck cancer, resulting in a paradigm shift in concepts for risk, diagnosis, and therapy of head and neck cancer. Her laboratory work focuses on the role of HPV infection in head and neck malignancies, and ranges from cohort studies of oral HPV infection to genetic indicators of response to chemoradiotherapy.

Science of Oncology Award and Lecture

Arul M. Chinnaiyan MD, PhD, is a physician-scientist at the leading edge of translational cancer research and precision oncology. He and his group have focused on functional genomic and bioinformatic approaches to study cancer for the purposes of understanding tumor biology as well as to discover genetic drivers. The landmark study from his laboratory is the discovery of TMPRSS2-ETS gene fusions in a majority of prostate cancers, the first causative gene fusion in a common solid tumor. Dr. Chinnaiyan is an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, American Cancer Society research professor, and director of the Michigan Center for Translational Pathology. Dr. Chinnaiyan completed his undergraduate, medical, and doctoral degrees, as well as a clinical pathology residency, at the University of Michigan. He is the S.P. Hicks Endowed Professor of Pathology and a professor of urology at the University of Michigan Medical School and is a member of the National Academies of Sciences and Medicine. Dr. Chinnaiyan has also co-authored over 500 manuscripts in peer-reviewed journals.

Gianni Bonadonna Breast Cancer Award and Lecture  

Joseph A. Sparano, MD, FACP, is the associate director for clinical research at the Albert Einstein Cancer Center, associate chair in the Department of Oncology at Montefiore Medical Center, and a professor of medicine and professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and women's health at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. He also serves as deputy chair of ECOG-ACRIN, co-principal investigator of the National Cancer Institute (NCI)–funded Montefiore Minority Underserved NCI Community Oncology Research Program, and principal investigator and group chair of the AIDS Malignancy Consortium. Dr. Sparano’s research focuses on the clinical application of biomarkers in breast cancer and developmental therapeutic approaches for breast cancer, lymphoma, and HIV-associated cancers.

ASCO-American Cancer Society Award and Lecture

Banu Arun, MD, FASCO, is a professor in the Department of Breast Medical Oncology, co-medical director of the Clinical Cancer Genetics Program, and section chief of breast genetics, prevention, and screening at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Her research focuses on identifying risk biomarkers for breast cancer and prevention, and characterizing risk factors in a cohort of high-risk women with hereditary gene mutations (BRCA and others), as well as assessing breast cancer biology in these patients. She has served as the principal investigator on several clinical trials evaluating agents such as letrozole, imatinib, gemcitabine, R115777, and PARP inhibitors for metastatic breast cancer (including BRCA positive), and celecoxib, atorvastatin, and dasatinib in short-term breast cancer prevention trials. Her research also includes outreach and education and cascade genetic testing of family members.  

Allen S. Lichter Visionary Leader Award and Lecture

Daniel F. Hayes, MD, FASCO, FACP, is the Stuart B. Padnos Professor of Breast Cancer Research at the University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center. He led the breast cancer programs at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (1991-1996), Georgetown University’s Lombardi Cancer Center (1996-2001), and the University of Michigan (2001-2016). His research interests are in the field of experimental therapeutics and cancer biomarkers, especially in breast cancer. His work has been particularly focused on development and validation of cancer biomarker tests, such as HER-2, CA15-3, circulating tumor cells and pharmacogenomic markers. He has been instrumental in establishing international guidelines for the use of tumor biomarker tests, including criteria for their clinical utility.

Distinguished Achievement Award

Emil J Freireich, MD, an oncologist who developed groundbreaking therapies for childhood leukemia and came to be recognized as a founding father of modern clinical cancer research, passed away on February 1, 2021, at the age of 93. He was a faculty member at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center for 50 years. He also had a joint appointment as a professor of laboratory medicine, and for many years he held the Ruth Harriet Ainsworth Research Chair in Developmental Therapeutics. He led the Leukemia Research Program for decades, training hundreds of physicians and scientists who carried on his commitment to conquering cancer. His protocols helped establish the groundwork for randomized clinical trials, and he instituted many teaching programs for graduate students, fellows, and faculty to drive progress in cancer research and treatment. He helped pioneer the application of cytogenetics and molecular genetics to patient care and to the evaluation of the effects of therapy, including detection of minimal residual disease.

Editor’s note: The Special Awards Selection Committee selected Dr. Freireich as the 2021 Distinguished Achievement Award recipient prior to his death, and will honor him posthumously in recognition of his incredible lifetime of contributions to the field.

Pediatric Oncology Award and Lecture

Crystal L. Mackall, MD, is the Ernest and Amelia Gallo Family Professor of Pediatrics and Medicine at Stanford University. She serves as the founding director of the Stanford Center for Cancer Cell Therapy, associate director of Stanford Cancer Institute, leader of the Cancer Immunology and Immunotherapy Program, and director of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy at Stanford. During a 27-year tenure culminating as chief of the Pediatric Oncology Branch, NCI, and now through the Center for Cancer Cell Therapy at Stanford, she has led an internationally recognized translational research program focused on pediatric immuno-oncology. Dr. Mackall has led numerous first-in-child clinical trials and has incorporated deep biologic endpoints into clinical studies that have furthered our understanding of immunotherapies for children’s cancers. She is the recipient of numerous awards and is a member of the American Society of Clinical Investigation and the American Academy of Physicians.   

B.J. Kennedy Award and Lecture for Scientific Excellence in Geriatric Oncology

Cesare Gridelli, MD, is the division chief of medical oncology at the “S.G. Moscati” Hospital, in Avellino, Italy. Dr. Gridelli was director of Department of Oncology/Hematology at the same institution from December 2003 to February 2017 and from March 2018 to date. He also served as vice-chief of the Division of Medical Oncology B at the National Cancer Institute of Naples and chief of the Day Hospital Chemotherapy Unit at the same institute. His areas of expertise are lung cancer and cancer in elderly patients. He is deeply involved in the clinical development of new anticancer targeted therapies and immunotherapy.

Excellence in Teaching Award

Sonali M. Smith, MD, FASCO, is the Elwood V. Jensen Professor of Medicine, section chief of hematology/oncology, co-leader of the Cancer Service Line, and director of the Lymphoma Program at the University of Chicago’s Department of Medicine. She is a clinical investigator in lymphoma and a clinical expert in mature lymphoid malignancies, including Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphomas. As a faculty member at the University of Chicago since 2001, she has written or co-written dozens of clinical trials and has participated in many more with key input in the clinical design, determination of endpoints, and analysis. She has nearly 200 publications in peer-reviewed journals. Dr. Smith is particularly interested in targeted agents and pathway inhibitors and has first and senior author publications through cooperative group trials and investigator-initiated trials. A significant portion of her research has focused on prognosis and the ability to deliver individualized therapy. She has won numerous teaching awards and considers mentorship a key aspect of her career.

Partners in Progress Award

Danielle Hicks is chief patient officer at the GO2 Foundation for Lung Cancer and has been working in the lung cancer nonprofit space for the past 11 years. She is responsible for all aspects of patient programming, services, engagement, and empowerment along with strategic insight and planning around lung cancer awareness and education. Through Ms. Hicks’ personal history with lung cancer, she served as caregiver to her mother, Bonnie Addario. This afforded her hands-on experience with lung cancer care, treatment, and survivorship, as well as emotional and physical toll of the disease. She has developed multiple patient education programs and publications that have reached 143 countries around the world. In her role she directly engages with patients, caregivers, physicians, nurses, and industry professionals. She attends scientific meetings specific to lung cancer, has sat on multiple advisory boards, and has experience with speaking engagements across the lung cancer community.

Humanitarian Award

Benjamin W. Corn, MD, FASTRO, is a professor of oncology at the Hebrew University School of Medicine, deputy director of the Shaare Zedek Cancer Center, and chair of the nongovernmental organization Life's Door. Dr. Corn’s commitment to fostering hope, meaning, and dignity for his patients goes beyond mere words. Through Life’s Door, which he co-founded with his wife, Dvora, and in collaboration with international academic partners, Dr. Corn is leading research efforts to unravel the mysteries and mechanisms of hope on the behavioral and neuro-scientific levels, including the training of medical professionals, caregivers, and patients in the hope enhancement model.

Walther Cancer Foundation Palliative and Supportive Care in Oncology Endowed Award and Lecture  

Tracy A. Balboni, MD, MPH, FAAHPM, is a professor of radiation oncology at Harvard Medical School, program director of the Harvard Radiation Oncology Program, and clinical director of the Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Supportive and Palliative Radiation Oncology Service. Her clinical and research interests are located at the intersection of oncology, palliative care, and the role of spirituality in life-threatening illness. Her work informing the role of spirituality in serious illness has shaped clinical guidelines regarding spiritual care in palliative care, and her clinical innovation at the intersection of oncology and palliative care has forged palliative radiation oncology as an academic field advancing clinical care, education, and research in palliative cancer care.

Hologic, Inc Endowed Women Who Conquer Cancer Mentorship Award

Jennifer A. Ligibel, MD, FASCO, is an associate professor at Harvard Medical School, the director of the Leonard P. Zakim Center for Integrative Therapies and Healthy Living, and the director of the Center for Faculty Well-Being at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Dr. Ligibel’s research focuses on the impact of energy balance factors on cancer risk and outcomes. She has evaluated the impact of exercise and weight loss interventions on endpoints such as biomarkers associated with cancer risk and outcomes, fitness, body composition, and quality of life in patients with cancer and cancer survivors. Dr. Ligibel is currently leading the Breast Cancer Weight Loss (BWEL) Trial, an NCI-funded phase III clinical trial that is testing the impact of a weight loss intervention upon the risk of disease recurrence in more than 3,100 overweight and obese women with early-stage breast cancer. Dr. Ligibel is also a scientific advisory board member and principal faculty for a workshop focused on training junior investigators interested in cancer energetics. Through this role and other research projects, Dr. Ligibel has had the privilege of working with many early-career faculties interested in the role of lifestyle factors in cancer prevention and control. 

International Women Who Conquer Cancer Mentorship Award

Lorna Awo Renner, MB.CHB, Dip Health Econs, MPH (Liverpool), FRCPCH (UK), FGCPS is an associate professor with the Department of Child Health at the University of Ghana Medical School and deputy director for the West African Genetic Medicine Centre at the University of Ghana. Dr. Renner is also a consultant pediatrician and heads the Pediatric Oncology Service at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital.  She serves as the chair for the Faculty of Child Health at the Ghana College of Physicians and Surgeons and is the coordinator for the pediatric oncology program. She is the past president of the African Continental branch of the International Society for Pediatric Oncology (SIOP). She is a mentor/supervisor for pediatric oncology trainee fellows including doctors from other countries in the West African sub-region. She is the Ghana country project lead for World Child Cancer, a charity based in the United Kingdom. As a founding trustee of Lifeline for Childhood Cancer Ghana, she has been actively involved in raising funds so children can access care expeditiously and inability to pay is not a limitation. Dr. Renner has served on several national and international boards and committees and received awards including the First Lady’s award for excellence in health. Her advocacy for improved access to childhood cancer services in Ghana has led to support from policymakers at the national level with Ghana being one of the first targeted countries under the World Health Organization Global Initiative for Childhood Cancer.  She also works closely with the Ghana Health Service as a member of the National Childhood Cancer Steering Committee.

Fellows of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (FASCO)  

The FASCO distinction recognizes ASCO members for their extraordinary volunteer service, dedication, and commitment to ASCO. The following members are being recognizing in 2021:  

  • Alan P. Lyss, MD, FASCO
  • Alexander Hantel, MD, FACP, FASCO
  • Anees B. Chagpar, MD, MPH, MBA, MSc, MA, FACS, FRCS, FASCO
  • Carol J. Fabian, MD, FASCO
  • Charles F. Miller, MD, FACP, FASCO
  • Christian A. Thomas, MD, FASCO
  • Colin D. Weekes, MD, PhD, FASCO
  • Daniel J. George, MD, FASCO
  • David H. Ilson, MD, PhD, FASCO
  • Dax Kurbegov, MD, FASCO
  • Elizabeth A. Mittendorf, MD, PhD, FASCO
  • Eric A. Singer, MD, MA, MS, FACS, FASCO
  • Fred R. Hirsch, MD, PhD, FASCO
  • Gregg E. Franklin, MD, PhD, FASCO
  • Heidi D. Klepin, MD, MS, FASCO
  • Jean Rene V. Clemenceau, MD, FASCO
  • Jill Lacy, MD, FASCO
  • Kala Visvanathan, MD, MHS, FRACP, FASCO
  • Karla V. Ballman, PhD, FASCO
  • Karyn A. Goodman, MD, MS, FASCO
  • Larissa A. Korde, MD, MPH, FASCO
  • Lisa Diller, MD, FASCO
  • Lodovico Balducci, MD, FASCO
  • Mariana Chavez Mac Gregor, MD, MSc, FASCO
  • Matthew H. G. Katz, MD, FACS, FASCO
  • Matthew I. Milowsky, MD, FASCO
  • Sumanta K. Pal, MD, FASCO
  • Susan M. Domchek, MD, FASCO
  • Tari A. King, MD, FASCO
  • Thomas W. LeBlanc, MD, MA, MHS, FAAHPM, FASCO
  • Timothy J. Moynihan, MD, FASCO
  • Tracey L. Evans, MD, FASCO
  • Vikki A. Canfield, MD, FASCO
  • William D. Tap, MD, FASCO

ASCO and Conquer Cancer acknowledge the generous support of the American Cancer Society for the ASCO-American Cancer Society Award and Lecture; GlaxoSmithKline Oncology for the Gianni Bonadonna Breast Cancer Award and Lecture;  Walther Cancer Foundation for the Walther Cancer Foundation Palliative and Supportive Care in Oncology Endowed Award and Lecture;  Hologic, Inc for the Hologic, Inc Endowed Women Who Conquer Cancer Mentorship Award; and Eisai Inc. and GlaxoSmithKline Oncology for the International Women Who Conquer Cancer Mentorship Award. 

Nominations for the ASCO and National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship (NCCS) co-presented Ellen L. Stovall Award for Innovation in Patient-Centered Cancer Care are now open. The Stovall Award is given annually to two recipients who have improved the care and lives of cancer survivors and their families—one health care provider and one patient advocate or advocacy organization. Learn more about the award and submit a nomination today.

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