Rogers Award honors Padmanee Sharma, M.D., Ph.D., for excellence in research

$15,000 prize recognizes physician-scientist for contributions to genitourinary medical oncology, immunotherapy

Padmanee Sharma, M.D., Ph.D., is the 2018 recipient of the Julie and Ben Rogers Award for Excellence in Research at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. The annual award recognizes employees who consistently demonstrate excellence in their work and dedication to MD Anderson’s mission to end cancer. The award’s focus rotates annually among the areas of patient care, research, education, prevention and administration.

Peter WT Pisters, M.D., president of MD Anderson, and Regina Rogers, a senior member of the MD Anderson Cancer Center Board of Visitors, led an awards ceremony yesterday announcing this year’s recipient and recognizing all five finalists, selected from 40 nominations. Sharma received a $15,000 prize and a framed certificate of merit.

Finalists, who received a $2,500 prize as well as a certificate of merit, include:

  • Simona Colla, Ph.D., associate professor, Leukemia Research
  • Vanessa Jensen, D.V.M., associate professor, Veterinary Medicine and Surgery
  • Sattva Neelapu, M.D., professor, Lymphoma/Myeloma
  • Nakia Spencer, M.S., institute associate scientist IV, Center for Co-Clinical Trials

Sharma dedicated to finding a cure for cancer through research studies

Since joining MD Anderson in 2004, Sharma has dedicated herself to finding a cure for cancer through clinical trials and laboratory studies. She is a professor in the Department of Genitourinary Medical Oncology, with an adjunct appointment as professor in the Department of Immunology.

Sharma has established an independent research program that incorporates her training as both a clinician and an immunologist. In the past 14 years, she has expanded her research efforts to establish a departmental program in genitourinary medical oncology and eventually to an institutional program that manages over 100 immunotherapy clinical trials and the associated correlative studies.

In 2012, Sharma established the immunotherapy platform, which is focused on conducting immune-based clinical trials and complementary laboratory studies. The platform's inaugural scientific director, she is involved with 101 immunotherapy clinical trials from across 18 departments at MD Anderson and nine pharmaceutical companies. In this role, she also coordinates the activities of several scientists, clinicians, data coordinators and administrative team members.

As a result of the platform's success, the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy at MD Anderson was established, with an initial commitment of $35 million from the Parker Foundation to advance the field of cancer immunotherapy and develop novel therapies.

"Dr. Sharma is an exceptional physician-scientist whose work successfully bridges the gap between clinical oncology and tumor immunology," said Elizabeth Travis, Ph.D., associate vice president, Women and Minority Faculty Inclusion, and Sharma’s nominator for the award. "Dr. Sharma's research will continue to be instrumental in expanding our knowledge base to develop novel immunotherapy strategies for treating cancer patients."

Sharma has been recognized by the Cancer Research Institute (CRI) for her innovative work in understanding factors that enhance and hinder cancer immunotherapy. She will receive the William B. Coley Award for Distinguished Research in Tumor Immunology at an annual meeting co-sponsored by CRI in New York later this month.

“I’m honored to be the recipient of this wonderful award, especially in the company of such inspirational finalists," said Sharma. "I’m grateful to Regina Rogers and her family for their dedication to
MD Anderson as well as the institution's senior leadership for their support and recognition of the outstanding work of its dedicated employees.”

More than three decades of dedication to the cause

Regina Rogers established the Julie and Ben Rogers Award for Excellence in 1987 in honor of her parents, the late Julie and Ben Rogers.

Ben Rogers served on the MD Anderson Cancer Center Board of Visitors from 1978 until his death in 1994. The Rogers family’s relationship with the institution dates to 1960, when Regina’s brother, Arvey Rogers, M.D., was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. A lengthy and successful surgery performed by Edgar C. White, M.D., and R. Lee Clark, M.D., enabled him to continue to lead a normal life.

In 1987, Julie Rogers was diagnosed with breast cancer. Through the surgical expertise of Richard Martin, M.D., and Fred Ames, M.D., she recovered and served to reinforce the Rogers family’s commitment to MD Anderson, remaining an active supporter until her death in February 1998.

Regina has continued the family’s commitment to MD Anderson, serving on the Board of Visitors since 1990 and as a passionate advocate for cancer prevention.

“My family and I have been touched by cancer and we have been blessed to receive extraordinary care and treatment at MD Anderson for nearly 60 years,” said Rogers. “I am always inspired by the humble and very dedicated physicians, nurses, researchers, administrators and other supportive staff who change the lives of thousands of patients annually.”