Ben Izar, MD, Awarded 2023 Pershing Square Sohn Prize for Young Investigators in Cancer Research

May 16, 2023

Ben Izar, MD, PhD

Benjamin Izar, MD, PhD, has been selected as a 2023 recipient of the Pershing Sohn Prize for Young Investigators in Cancer Research in recognition of his innovative approach to finding a new therapeutic target for brain metastasis. The Pershing Sohn Prize is a prestigious award that encourages promising early-career scientists to pursue new and bold research at a time in their career where funding for such projects is often difficult to secure. Prizewinners each receive $250,000 a year for up to three years to support their projects. 

With his award, Dr. Izar, assistant professor of medicine and systems biology at Columbia University Irving Medical Center and a member of the Tumor Biology and Microenvironment program at the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center (HICCC), hopes to uncover new therapeutic approaches to prevent and treat brain metastasis. Brain metastasis is a common cause of cancer death that to this point has been difficult to treat.  

Dr. Izar’s project will look at the role chromosomal instability plays in promoting brain metastasis. Chromosomal instability is a perpetual genomic process that results in an imbalance of large chromosomal fragments or entire chromosomes, which triggers pathways that promote cancer metastasis and confers escape from the body’s own immune system. Dr. Izar and his lab hope to find a vulnerability in this process that can be therapeutically targeted to prevent or slow brain metastasis. They also hope better to understand why certain cancers prefer to metastasize in specific organs, such as the brain, a phenomenon known as metastatic organotropism. 

“Not all metastatic sites are created equal - both in terms of biology and clinical implications,” says Dr. Izar. “The Pershing Square Sohn Prize will allow us to study the critical intersection of niche-specific metastatic organotropism and immunity.” 

Dr. Izar has received many honors and grants to support his work, including a National Cancer Institute R37 MERIT Award, the Columbia University Louis V. Gerstner, Jr. Scholar, Schaefer and Velocity Awards, the Abeloff V Foundation Award and the Tara Miller Melanoma Research Alliance Young Investigator Award, and has been inducted to the American Society for Clinical Investigation in 2023.  

Emphasizing the opportunity that the Pershing Sohn Prize gives young investigators to push forward innovative projects, Dr. Izar adds, “innovation is not optional but necessary - as we explore novel biology with clinical relevance, experimental and analytical innovation is our constant companion.” 

Dr. Izar is the latest of several HICCC members to receive the Pershing Sohn Prize. Most recently, HICCC members Christine Iok In Chio, PhD, and Xuebing Wu, PhD, were each awarded the prize in 2021