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Dr. Elizabeth Eisenhauer presented with 2021 Canada Gairdner Wightman Award

Transforming the fields of cancer clinical trials and cancer drug delivery

Dr. Elizabeth Eisenhauer, former CCTG IND Program Director and CCTG Interim Group Director, has been presented with the 2021 Canada Gairdner Wightman Award, for her dedication to transforming the fields of cancer clinical trials and cancer drug delivery.

She was recognized for her investigation of new cancer drugs and delivery approaches, leading change in cancer clinical trials and establishing new standards of cancer treatment that have impacted patients around the world. The prestigious award recognizes a Canadian health researcher who has demonstrated extraordinary leadership paired with exceptional science. Successful nominees demonstrate research excellence in the health sciences at an international level as well as superior leadership among their peers, with local, national, and international impact.

 “I am incredibly honoured to receive this recognition, says Dr. Eisenhauer. “Importantly, I want to acknowledge that the work I did was only made possible by the truly incredible team of colleagues in the Canadian Cancer Trials Group (CCTG) at Queen’s, collaborators and scientists across Canada, and, especially, the countless patients who volunteered to participate in clinical trials, often with the altruistic hope of helping future cancer sufferers. The Canadian Cancer Society’s support of CCTG since 1980 also permitted us to evaluate the ideas we developed and turn them into trials. Moving forward, this type of support for “academic” clinical trials such as that done by the CCTG is critical to continue to improve cancer outcomes.”

Dr. Eisenhauer spent a large portion of her career undertaking phase I and II trials of novel cancer therapies in her role as the inaugural CCTG Director of the Investigational New Drug Program. Through her work in the IND Program, she directed the coordination of over 170 phase I, II and III trials across Canada, the US and Europe, which included some of the first trials of paclitaxel and docetaxel, studies of topotecan, gemcitabine, various targeted antisense agents, angiogenesis inhibitors, and small molecule signaling inhibitors.

“On behalf of the entire CCTG national network, I would like to extend our congratulations to Dr. Eisenhauer for her outstanding work as a cancer researcher, leader and innovator for the group and her impact on cancer care for Canadians,” says Dr. Janet Dancey, Director of the CCTG.

Dr. Eisenhauer’s research has established new standards of cancer treatment that have impacted patients around the world. She has contributed to the clinical evaluation of new anti-cancer agents, as well as cancer research strategy, and clinical trials development. Her insight has been key to the creation of new treatments for ovarian cancer, malignant melanoma, and brain tumours. She is credited with developing new methodologies for the delivery of Taxol, one of the most important cancer drugs in the world. This work expanded the understanding of therapeutic interventions and has led to new standards of cancer treatment for patients in Canada and around the world.

Reflection by Dr Joe Pater, CCTG founding Director - "I first met Elizabeth when I returned to Kingston to take up a faculty position in the division of Haematology and she was the clinical clerk on our service. Even then we all recognized her potential, and, as she progressed through her training in medicine and haematology, she and we entertained various ideas about what post residency experience would best lead to a successful academic career. As it turned out, she decided she wanted to stay in Kingston, and I was able to convince her that spending a few years helping the NCIC Clinical Trials Group develop its newly funded Investigational New Drugs Program would be an ideal way to acquire expertise in clinical research. A few years turned into many and the rest is a history well worth the recognition it has received." 

She also led the creation of the first collaborative cancer research strategy for Canada in her role as co-Chair of the Canadian Cancer Research Alliance, convened the first Summit to create a Tobacco Endgame for Canada and was the first expert lead for Research in the Canadian Partnership against Cancer.

The Canada Gairdner Wightman Award, is reserved for a Canadian scientist showcasing scientific excellence and leadership. For more information on the Gairdner Awards, please visit the website