Poul Sorensen receives Bloom Burton Award for innovative cancer research

Poul Sorensen, a UBC professor in the department of pathology and laboratory medicine, has been awarded the 2019 Bloom Burton Award, recently presented at a gala in Toronto.

UBC faculty of medicine cancer researcher Poul Sorensen

Sorensen, a molecular pathologist and cancer biologist specializing in the genetics and biology of pediatric cancers, also received a $25,000 prize for being named a finalist for the award.

The annual award honours a scientist, inventor, executive, entrepreneur, industry leader, or policy maker who made the greatest contribution to Canada’s innovative healthcare industry in the previous year.

Poul Sorensen, centre, receives the Bloom Burton Award on Sept. 26, 2019.

In 1998, Dr. Sorensen’s lab discovered a gene mutation, ETV6-NTRK3 that launched a new field in cancer biology. This led to the development and 2018 FDA approval of a tumour-agnostic therapy called larotrectinib. The drug was subsequently approved by Health Canada on July 30, 2019. Larotrectinib targets at least 22 different cancers in both children and adults.

In Sorensen’s laboratory at the BC Cancer Research Centre, researchers focus on genetic approaches and biochemical methods to identify deregulated signaling cascades in childhood cancer cells. His group has discovered many novel translocation associated alterations in childhood cancer.

Currently, Sorensen’s lab is focused on how cancer cells respond to acute stress with the aim of identifying new targets for therapy in aggressive tumours.

“It is impossible to overstate how gratifying it is when hard work performed in the lab actually turns out to tangibly benefit human beings,” Sorensen said. “The idea that our work over many years has led to revolutionary new drugs in clinical oncology gives my team tremendous satisfaction, and strengthens our conviction that basic research, particularly in rare diseases, can pay huge dividends to the community.”

It is impossible to overstate how gratifying it is when hard work performed in the lab actually turns out to tangibly benefit human beings.

Dr. Poul Sorensen

Sorensen holds the Johal Endowed Chair in Childhood Cancer Research at the University of British Columbia. He is a founding member of the American Association for Cancer Research Pediatric Cancer Working Group and a principal investigator on the Stand Up 2 Cancer Pediatric Cancer Dream Team grant focused on immunotherapeutic approaches to targeting high-risk childhood cancers.

“People are what make our industry special, and this award was created to celebrate the most important contributor to our innovator sector each year,” said Brian Bloom, Bloom Burton’s co-founder, chairman and CEO in a release. “Dr. Sorensen deserves our deep respect and gratitude. We also appreciate the other finalists for joining and for being celebrated at what has become the most important healthcare award event of the year.”

The Bloom Burton Award winner was chosen by a panel of judges, all respected international leaders in healthcare investment, entrepreneurship and journalism.

Two decades ago, Poul Sorensen made a discovery that would lead to the development of a cancer drug that shrinks many different kinds of tumours.