Skip to main content

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital president and CEO honored for contributions to pediatric cancer research

James R. Downing, M.D., receives inaugural award from prestigious cancer research association.

Memphis, Tennessee, June 22, 2020

Researcher in suit looks at camera.

The American Association for Cancer Research honored St. Jude President and CEO James R. Downing, M.D., with its inaugural AACR-St. Baldrick’s Foundation Award for Outstanding Achievement in Pediatric Cancer Research.

The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) is honoring St. Jude President and CEO James R. Downing, M.D., with its inaugural AACR-St. Baldrick’s Foundation Award for Outstanding Achievement in Pediatric Cancer Research.

AACR and the St. Baldrick’s Foundation created the award last year as a means to bring major research discoveries to the attention of the pediatric cancer research community and to honor an individual who has significantly contributed to pediatric cancer research, resulting in fundamental improvement of the understanding and treatment of pediatric cancer. Notably, the award also provides $75,000 in research funding for a junior faculty member conducting research that has the potential to accelerate breakthroughs against pediatric cancer.

Downing is a world-renowned leader in pediatric cancer research. He has focused his career and research on understanding the genomic basis of childhood cancer to improve treatment for children with the disease. He will deliver a lecture, “The Molecular Pathology of Pediatric Leukemia,” Tuesday, June 23, at 4:15 p.m. CT during the AACR Virtual Annual Meeting 2020 II.

“I am honored to be the first recipient of the AACR-St. Baldrick's Foundation Award for Outstanding Achievement in Pediatric Cancer Research,” Downing said. “I’m grateful to accept this award for St. Jude and for all the colleagues with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working throughout my career. Together, we’ve made steady progress in understanding why childhood cancer arises, spreads and resists treatment. I feel privileged that my work has helped advance the fight against this disease.”

Downing has dedicated more than 30 years to uncovering the genetic basis of childhood cancer. His lecture focuses on the decades-long journey to understand the molecular landscape of childhood cancer and how that information can be used today to benefit cancer patients of all ages and raise global cancer cure rates.

Downing has played a key role in this progress. He was instrumental in creating the Pediatric Cancer Genome Project (PCGP), which has produced groundbreaking discoveries in some of the least understood and most aggressive pediatric cancers as well as in the degenerative disorder commonly called Lou Gehrig disease. The PCGP is an ambitious collaboration that has changed childhood cancer research, diagnosis and treatment. In 2012, TIME magazine named the project one of the Top 10 medical breakthroughs. In 2013, Downing was a finalist on TIME magazine’s listing of the 100 most influential people in the world.

Beyond research, Downing has been a driving force to take St. Jude to the world. As CEO, he championed the creation of St. Jude Global, a $100 million investment to transform pediatric cancer care in low- and middle-income countries that are home to 80% of childhood cancer patients, but where cure rates still lag.

Downing is a member of the National Academy of Medicine and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has received the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s 2019 Pediatric Oncology Award and Lecture, the 2017 E. Donnall Thomas Lecture and Prize from the American Society of Hematology and the 2017 Society of Memorial Sloan Kettering Prize, among other honors. In 2016, he was appointed to the Blue Ribbon Panel for former Vice President Joe Biden’s National Cancer Moonshot Initiative.

The AACR has more than 47,000 members residing in 127 countries and territories and is the first and largest cancer research organization dedicated to accelerating the conquest of cancer.

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is leading the way the world understands, treats and cures childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases. It is the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center devoted solely to children. Treatments developed at St. Jude have helped push the overall childhood cancer survival rate from 20% to 80% since the hospital opened more than 50 years ago. St. Jude freely shares the breakthroughs it makes, and every child saved at St. Jude means doctors and scientists worldwide can use that knowledge to save thousands more children. Families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing and food — because all a family should worry about is helping their child live. To learn more, visit or follow St. Jude on social media at @stjuderesearch.