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Recognized for Identifying and Overcoming Barriers in the Tumor Microenvironment To Improve Delivery


ROCKVILLE, MD – The National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR) announced that Rakesh K. Jain, Ph.D., has been selected to receive the 2022 Szent-Györgyi Prize for Progress in Cancer Research. The blue-ribbon Prize selection committee, consisting of renowned leaders in cancer research, elected Dr. Jain for his pioneering research and breakthrough discoveries on overcoming barriers posed by the tumor microenvironment (TME) which led to the improved delivery and efficacy of anti-cancer medicines. His groundbreaking and innovative research has fundamentally transformed the understanding of tumor biology and directly informed the development and approval of new drug-combinations to treat cancer patients.


Rakesh K. Jain, Ph.D., will be honored at the Szent-Györgyi Prize award ceremony on October 22, 2022, at The National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Jain is the director of the Edwin L. Steele Laboratories for Tumor Biology at the Massachusetts General Hospital and the Andrew Werk Cook Professor of Radiation Oncology at Harvard Medical School. In four decades of pioneering work – Dr. Jain, an engineer by training – continues to combine physical sciences, engineering, mathematical modeling, physiology, biology, and immunology at the laboratory bench and patient’s bedside to develop and support his seminal hypotheses on how the abnormal TME – the surrounding blood vessels, immune cells, other cells such as fibroblasts, and the extracellular matrix – thwarts the delivery and efficacy of conventional and emerging anticancer medicines and how to overcome this challenge.


By developing innovative imaging technologies and laboratory models, Dr. Jain has demonstrated in real-time that tumors have structurally and functionally abnormal blood vessels in addition to impaired lymphatics. These vascular abnormalities lead to high interstitial fluid pressure and poor blood flow that impair the delivery of antitumor therapeutics and immune cells. Moreover, the resulting abnormal TME compromises the efficacy of drugs and immune cells even after they accrue in tumors.


In light of these findings, Dr. Jain proposed the groundbreaking concept that ‘normalizing’ the abnormal tumor vessels – using anti-angiogenic approaches – originally developed to inhibit formation of blood vessels – can create a ‘window of opportunity’ or time period thereby allowing better delivery and efficacy of anti-cancer medicines. Dr. Jain and his clinical collaborators demonstrated that anti-angiogenic agents could indeed normalize tumor blood vessels in patients. Indeed, brain, lung, liver, and breast cancer patients survived longer when blood flow or oxygen levels increased in their tumors due to normalization.


Dr. Jain applied his vascular normalization principle to improve the efficacy of the new immunotherapy – immune-checkpoint blockade. His seminal pre-clinical work laid the foundation for clinical trials and U.S. Federal Drug Association (FDA) approval of seven combinations of anti-angiogenic drugs with checkpoint blockers to enhance their efficacy in lung, liver, endometrial, and kidney cancer patients.


Rakesh K. Jain, Ph.D., has the rare distinction of being elected to all three U.S. National Academies – Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine – and the National Academy of Inventors. In 2016, he received the 2013 U.S. National Medal of Science (for biological science) from President Obama – our nation’s highest honor for advancing the fields of science.

“Dr. Jain’s ingenious use of new experimental approaches and what they have told us about the fundamental aspects of the TME and how they can be modulated to allow more efficacious therapies for cancer are just stunning to me as an immunologist,” said Mark M. Davis, Ph.D., Chair of the 2022 Prize selection committee and co-winner of the 2021 Szent-Györgyi Prize. “His work is both deeply impactful and elegant.”


Co-Chair of the 2022 selection committee and 2021 Prize co-winner, Tak W. Mak, Ph.D., remarked, “The basic discoveries by Dr. Jain of the abnormal vasculature and matrix and their effects on immune cell modulation have facilitated the development of life-extending therapies. I look forward to future combinations of therapies stemming from the fruits of his incredible accomplishments.”


“Dr. Rakesh Jain’s seminal discoveries in basic and translational research have guided numerous fields in cancer research with the promise of saving lives. These are the pillars of the Szent-Györgyi Prize,” said Sujuan Ba, Ph.D., co-chair of the 2022 Prize selection committee and President and CEO of NFCR. “Incidentally, Dr. Jain has been continuously funded by the NFCR since 1998. We are delighted and proud that he is receiving the 2022 Szent-Györgyi Prize.”


“I am enormously honored and pleased to be selected by the committee for the coveted Szent-Györgyi Prize,” stated Dr. Rakesh Jain. “Every scientist’s dream is that his or her findings will someday translate from bench to bedside. I have been very fortunate to see this happen in my career multiple times. I have had the good fortune to collaborate with so many talented students, clinicians, other world leaders, and of course, patients who participated in the trials. Therefore, being recognized by NFCR for contributions to basic and translational oncology is an enormous honor.”