Sara Isabel Pai, MD, PhD, FACS
Photo: Sara I. Pai



Elected 2022

Dr. Sara Pai is a surgeon-scientist who has dedicated her career to advancing the clinical care of human papillomavirus (HPV)-associated head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) patients through the development of novel immunotherapeutic approaches. Her academic career merges her immunology and clinical trials background with head and neck surgical oncology interests. Dr. Pai's translational research laboratory has two broad areas of focus: 1) The development of novel immunomodulatory therapies for head and neck cancer patients and 2) The discovery and clinical application of diagnostic and/or predictive biomarkers. The approach that she has taken is to develop various novel immunomodulatory therapies which targets the spectrum of head and neck cancer care, which includes the recurrent and/or metastatic, newly diagnosed, and the pre-cancerous setting. Her laboratory was one of the first to report on PD-1:PD-L1 pathway activation in HPV-associated head and neck cancers which provided the rationale for administration of an anti-PD1 blocking antibody in head and neck cancer patients in the first phase 1b basket clinical trial (KEYNOTE-012). Subsequently, several phase III clinical trials of anti-PD1 therapy in HNSCC patients were completed and, in June of 2019, pembrolizumab was FDA approved for the treatment of recurrent and/or metastatic (R/M) HNSCC patients in the first line treatment setting. Her current research efforts focus on identifying and overcoming mechanisms of immune resistance through novel combinatorial immunotherapeutic strategies. Her translational investigations of HPV-associated cancers extends into the pre-cancerous setting with the study of HPV-associated recurrent respiratory papillomatosis patients. She is actively investigating novel systemic immunotherapies in this patient population to achieve clearance of chronic viral infection and associated tumors.