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Research awards

The Canadian Cancer Society promotes and recognizes excellence and outstanding achievements in cancer research.

Since 1993, we have acknowledged some of the country’s best researchers with our Canadian Cancer Society Awards for Excellence. We are proud to honour these talented individuals who have played a key role in the advancement of cancer research.

These individuals have made rich and meaningful contributions, whether in advancing biomedical cancer research or conducting research that has made a major impact on cancer control in Canada. Congratulations to all our award winners!  

Robert L. Noble Prize

The Robert L. Noble Prize is given for outstanding achievements in basic biomedical cancer research. It honours Dr Noble, an esteemed Canadian investigator whose research in the 1950s led to the discovery of vinblastine, a widely used anticancer drug. At the time, vinblastine was one of the most effective treatments available for Hodgkin lymphoma.

The award comes with a $20,000 contribution to the recipient’s research program.

Dr Jerry Pelletier, 2019 recipient

Professor, Departments of Biochemistry and Oncology, McGill University


Dr Jerry Pelletier is a world-renowned expert in research on translation, the process by which proteins are made. Translation is a critical process for cell growth but when it goes awry, it can lead to cancer and other diseases.

Dr Pelletier is internationally recognized for seminal contributions he made about how protein synthesis begins and how it is controlled. Since starting his own lab, he has expanded his research to explore how the translation process can be targeted by natural and synthetic compounds. He identified several new drugs that can stop proteins from being made and have shown great promise as anti-cancer drugs against a number of different cancers. To further develop these compounds, Dr Pelletier conducted comprehensive studies to understand how these drugs work. These efforts were crucial in moving these new compounds from the laboratory into clinical trials where they are now being tested for safety and effectiveness in people.

Dr Pelletier’s many contributions throughout his career set the stage for translation as a key process that can be targeted to treat cancer. Thanks to his work, new drugs are being tested and developed as therapies to help people with cancer and many other diseases.

O. Harold Warwick Prize

The O. Harold Warwick Prize is given for outstanding achievements in cancer control research. It honours Dr Warwick, a pioneering researcher in cancer control and treatment, and the first executive director of the former National Cancer Institute of Canada and the Canadian Cancer Society.

The award comes with a $20,000 contribution to the recipient’s research program.

Dr Timothy Whelan, 2019 recipient

Professor, Department of Oncology, McMaster University
Radiation Oncologist, Juravinski Cancer Centre


Dr Timothy Whelan is a radiation oncologist and researcher who is described by his peers as a world leader in the field of radiation therapy for breast cancer. Throughout his career, he has focused on conducting rigorous clinical trials to test new treatment strategies and technologies to guide clinical practice.

Chief among his contributions is a Canadian clinical trial that Dr Whelan led in the 1990s that showed that giving a larger dose of radiation per day over a shorter period of time was as effective and safe as the previous standard of a lower dose of radiation over a longer timeframe. A shorter course of radiation requires fewer visits to the hospital, making it more convenient for people with breast cancer and less costly for the healthcare system. Thanks to Dr Whelan’s ground-breaking work, the shorter radiation schedule is now the standard of care in Canada and around the world.

In another influential study, Dr Whelan led an international clinical trial that found that the addition of regional node radiation after breast conserving surgery and standard whole breast radiation reduced the risk of breast cancer coming back and spreading, leading to the strategy being adopted into clinical practice in Canada and abroad.

Dr Whelan has also led the development of a visual aid called a decision board to improve communications between clinicians and people with breast cancer. By providing information about treatment choices, outcomes and likelihood of outcomes, the tool allows people to be actively involved in the decision-making process and make informed choices about their treatment.

Dr Whelan’s body of work has fundamentally improved care for people with breast cancer by changing how radiation therapy is delivered and how people are consulted during the process. As a result of his efforts, more people with the disease are living longer and fuller lives.

William E. Rawls Prize

The William E. Rawls Prize is given to a young investigator whose outstanding contributions have the potential to lead to, or have already led to important advances in cancer control. It honours Dr Rawls, past president of the former National Cancer Institute of Canada. His research focused on viruses, particularly those involved in chronic diseases and cervical cancer.

The award comes with a $20,000 contribution to the recipient’s research program. 

Dr Darren Brenner, 2019 co-recipient

Assistant Professor, Departments of Oncology and Community Health Sciences, University of Calgary


Dr Darren Brenner is an epidemiologist whose research is focused on understanding how lifestyle and environment affect genetics to impact cancer risk. Since becoming an independent investigator in 2015, he has made significant contributions to cancer control research in Canada and established a research program focused on cancer prevention through the study of lifestyle, molecular and genetic pathways and cancer risk. One specific project that he is working on aims to examine the genetic landscape of early-onset breast and colorectal cancers, which builds on his previous studies showing that the rate of colorectal cancer is rising in young adults in Canada.

Dr Brenner’s research has highlighted the major impact of modifiable factors on cancer incidence in Canada and led to findings that estimated the proportion of cancer in Alberta caused by modifiable lifestyle and environmental factors. Following the success of this project, Dr Brenner became one of two lead researchers on the Canadian Population Attributable Risk of Cancer (ComPARe) Project. The ComPARe study was the most comprehensive and up-to-date study on the preventable burden of cancer in Canada. The findings from the study, which were published in May 2019, will guide future prevention research and inform the development of new cancer prevention programs and policies.

As further testament to his leadership and contributions, Dr Brenner serves on the Canadian Cancer Statistics Steering Committee and an advisory committee of the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer. His commitments to and impact on cancer control research will no doubt play an important role in reducing the burden of cancer in Canada.
Dr David Palma, 2019 co-recipient

Associate Professor, Departments of Medical Biophysics, Oncology and Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery, Western University
Associate Scientist, Lawson Health Research Institute
Radiation Oncologist, London Health Sciences Centre
Clinician Scientist, Ontario Institute for Cancer Research


Though early in his career, Dr David Palma is recognized globally as a leader in the field of radiation oncology. His most significant research contribution to-date is an international clinical trial he led to test a new radiation treatment called SABR, which delivers high doses of radiation to small, precise areas, in people with metastatic cancer. This study was the first of its kind and showed that targeted, high dose radiation can prolong survival and delay disease progression in people whose cancer had spread to a limited number of sites. These results are practice changing and offer new hope to people with limited metastases, a population for whom few effective treatments existed previously.

Dr Palma is also passionate about and committed to improving medical education. He identified an unmet need in the anatomy education of radiation oncology doctors and created an intensive course focused on contouring, a skill that doctors use to outline the areas that need to be targeted to treat cancer as well as the healthy tissues that need to be avoided. Since it first launched in 2011, the Anatomy and Radiation Contouring Bootcamp for Radiation Oncology Residents has consistently been at full capacity and welcomed participants from the U.S., Europe and South America.

In addition to his work as a radiation oncologist and a researcher, Dr Palma is the author of the national bestseller book Taking Charge of Cancer: What You Need to Know to Get the Best Treatment. Published in 2017, the book and the accompanying website provide practical advice and a roadmap for people with cancer and their families to obtain the best quality care possible.

Through his achievements in research, teaching and knowledge translation, Dr Palma is advancing cancer control and helping people with the disease live longer and have a better quality of life.

Bernard and Francine Dorval Prize

The Bernard and Francine Dorval Prize is given to a young investigator whose outstanding contributions to basic biomedical research have the potential to lead, or have already led to improved understanding of cancer treatments and/or cures. It honours Bernard and Francine Dorval, whose longstanding support of the Society has helped to raise more than two million dollars in support of Society-funded research, policy work and programs.

This award comes with a $20,000 contribution to the recipient’s research program.

Dr Benjamin Haibe-Kains, 2019 recipient

Senior Scientist, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, University Health Network
Associate Professor, Department of Medical Biophysics, University of Toronto


Dr Benjamin Haibe-Kains is a data scientist and leader in the field of computational medicine, which applies mathematics, statistics and computer science to the understanding of human disease. His research uses large sets of genetic and clinical data to develop better ways of diagnosing and treating people with cancer.

In the past 7 years since he became an independent investigator, Dr Haibe-Kains has made significant contributions to advance precision medicine for cancer. His research uncovered new genetic signatures for different types and subtypes of cancer, which has translated to new tests used in the clinic to better diagnose cancer and predict the course of disease. Dr. Haibe-Kains’ findings enabled the development of new computational platforms to assist doctors in assembling a highly personalized treatment plan for each person’s unique cancer. Dr. Haibe-Kains’ research objective is to ensure that people are receiving therapies that are most likely to target their disease and not receiving therapies from which they are unlikely to benefit.

Building on this research, Dr Haibe-Kains’ work shed light on the need to improve the process of discovering genetic markers to predict drug response and led to the creation of new tools that enable these discoveries to be made in a rigorous and reproducible way. He is also using artificial intelligence to extract information from CT scans and MRI images to build models that can predict how an individual will fare. These models will help doctors identify people who will and will not benefit from radiation and adjust their treatment strategy accordingly, decreasing both side effects and healthcare costs by avoiding unnecessary treatments.

Dr Haibe-Kains’ is a strong advocate of open science and research reproducibility, two major challenges in biomedical research today. His efforts have led to new technologies that facilitate data and protocol sharing and quality control processes that enhance reproducibility across different laboratories, which is critical for maintaining research integrity and public trust in science.



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Together we can reduce the burden of cancer

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Last year, we only had the resources available to fund 40% of high-priority research projects. Imagine the impact we could have if we were able to fund 100%.

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