Born:

October 4, 1945

(Southern China)

Education:

MSc, University of Wisconsin (1969)

PhD, University of Alberta (1972)

Awards & Honours:

2018: CIHR Gold Leaf Prize

2008: Order of Ontario

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Picture of Tak Wah Mak

Discovered the characteristics of the T-Cell receptor

Sketch of Tak Wah Mak, PhD

A major figure in the fields of molecular and cellular biology

In 1984, Dr. Mak solved one of the toughest problems in immunology – the structure of the T cell receptor for antigens. Until then, the nature of its antigen receptor had been unknown. In fact, the principal idea was that the T cell receptor was some unusual form of antibody.

Dr. Mak discovered that T cells actually use an entirely different set of genes for antigen recognition. He showed that the T cell receptor for antigen was, in many ways, analogous in design to antibodies, yet totally different in genetic origin and sequence. It is impossible to understate the importance and impact of this seminal discovery on all fields of immunology. The next twenty-five years saw Dr. Mak blaze a remarkable trail in the molecular biology of the immune system and in cancer.

Key Facts

Pioneered the development of genetically engineered mice

Led a team at Amgen that produced 20 patented molecular discoveries for use in drug development

Identified critical molecular pathways that are expressed in cancer cells

Discovered the function of multiple components of the innate and acquired immune system

Developed IHIFA—the first licensed drug specifically targeting cancer metabolism to be used for cancer treatment

Authored more than 1,000 publications and has been cited over 100,000 times

Professional timeline

Impact on lives today

From his ground-breaking discovery of T-Cell receptors in the 1980s to today, Dr. Mak’s legacy can still be felt. His laboratory remains at the forefront of the multiple fields of biological research that have a direct impact on public health across the world. In Canada, Dr. Mak has helped raise the profile of Canadian cancer research and has attracted substantial grant funding and donor gifts to the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. In addition, the Weekend to End Women’s Cancers walks have raised over $145 million for Dr. Mak’s research. Through scientific excellence and unwavering commitment to immunology and cancer research, Dr. Mak continues to provide hope to thousands that a cure for breast cancer may one day be found.

Picture of Tak Wah Mak

2009

  • Tak Wah Mak inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame

    Montréal, Québec

  • To help advanced practical applications of his scientific discoveries, Dr. Mak co-founded Agios Pharmaceuticals

    Cancer

    In August 2017, Agios’ IDHIDA was approved for cancer treatment.

  • Tak Wah Mak became Director of the Campbell Family for Breast Cancer Research Institute at the Princess Margaret Hospital

    Cancer

    Dr. Mak has earned international recognition by identifying critical molecular pathways that are expressed in cancer cells which begins to explain how these cells escape normal behaviour in terms of the control of growth and death.

  • With support from the world’s largest independent biotech company, Amgen, Dr. Mak established the Amgen Research Institute in Toronto

    Cells, Genetics & Genomics

    He established one of the finest academic drug research centres, which have identified two novel drug targets.

  • Began an over 20-year period as editor of multiple leading journals in immunology

    These journals included: The International Journal of Immunology; The Scandinavian Journal of Immunology; and The Immunologist.

  • Known as the “holy grail” of immunology, Dr. Mak discovered the structure of the T-Cell captor for antigens

    Cells, Genetics & Genomics

    His discovery remains the basis of research in 5,000 laboratories around the world.

  • Dr. Mak joined the University of Toronto as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Medical Biophysics

    Ten years later, he became a full professor in both the Departments of Medical Biophysics and Immunology.

  • After receiving his PhD, Dr. Mak moved to Ontario to become a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Ontario Cancer Institute in Toronto

    The following year, he became a member of the senior scientific staff.

1972

The only way I was happy was to do something very different.