Nima Sharifi, MD, has received the 2021 Waun Ki Hong Award for Outstanding Achievement in Translational and Clinical Cancer Research from the prestigious American Association for Cancer Research (AACR).
The award—established to celebrate the achievements of the late Dr. Hong, whose own research advanced the field of targeted chancer therapy and launched chemoprevention—recognizes early- and mid-career scientists for extraordinary contributions to the field of cancer research. Dr. Sharifi, who directs Cleveland Clinic’s Genitourinary Malignancies Research Center, was selected for his work into how a genetic variant enables prostate cancer cells to evade first-line treatment and leads to aggressive disease.
“I am incredibly honored to receive the AACR Waun Ki Hong Award,” said Dr. Sharifi. “Dr. Hong’s practice-changing discoveries represent the gold standard for medical oncologists and cancer researchers everywhere who strive to find solutions in the lab for real-world problems faced by patients and clinicians.”
With the award, AACR recognizes Dr. Sharifi for his paradigm-shifting discovery that the HSD3B1(1245C) variant helps prostate cancer cells to produce their own androgens—hormones that act like fuel—thereby allowing the cancer cells to dodge the effects of androgen deprivation therapy, which is part of the standard-of-care, first-line prostate cancer treatment.
Since publishing this research in Cell in 2013, Dr. Sharifi has gone on to show in several studies reported in Lancet Oncology and JAMA Oncology that in men with low-volume advanced prostate cancer, the genetic variant is associated with faster progression to treatment resistance and shorter overall survival. In 2020, he and his team reported in JAMA Oncology results from the first clinical trial validation of the relationship between HSD3B1 status and clinical outcomes.
The findings importantly suggest that genetic testing for the presence of HSD3B1(1245C) may help physicians identify those patients most likely to benefit from additional and more aggressive treatment. With funding from the Department of Defense, Dr. Sharifi is currently working with collaborators to develop a prostate cancer drug that targets the metabolic enzyme produced by the 1245C variant.
“Nima is tremendously deserving of this prestigious recognition from the American Association for Cancer Research. His research into the role of the HSD3B1 gene variant has evolved into a nearly decade-long story of translation success,” said Eric Klein, MD, chairman of Cleveland Clinic’s Glickman Urological & Kidney Institute, and Dr. Sharifi’s close clinical collaborator. “His work truly spans the entire research continuum—having moved from bench to bedside and back again—and honors the spirit of Dr. Hong’s commitment to cancer research translation.”
The Waun Ki Hong Award for Outstanding Achievement in Translational and Clinical Research will be presented to Dr. Sharifi at AACR’s Annual Meeting in April and May, which will be help virtually this year. Dr. Sharifi is the fifth recipient of the award, which was created and presented for the first time in 2017.
AACR is made up of nearly 50,000 researchers, physician-scientists, other health care professionals and patient advocates from around the country working to fight cancer. “This award is especially meaningful as I was selected by an organization of my peers,” said Dr. Sharifi. “I’m humbled by the recognition and look forward to continuing the line of investigation to hopefully bring more care-enhancing discoveries to patients.”
Dr. Sharifi is a staff member in the Department of Cancer Biology and holds the Kendrick Family Chair for Prostate Cancer Research at Cleveland Clinic. He also has joint appointments in the Glickman Urological & Kidney Institute and Taussig Cancer Institute. In 2017, Dr. Sharifi received the national Top Ten Clinical Achievement Award from the Clinical Research Forum for his discoveries related to HSD3B1.