He was 60.
Pawson, chair of molecular oncology at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, died late Wednesday of an undisclosed cause.
His death has stunned and saddened the scientific community both in Canada and abroad, long-time colleagues said Friday.
"Tony's passing represents a profound loss for Canada's scientific community and will be felt throughout the international medical research world," Dr. Jim Woodgett, director of the institute, said in a statement.
"All of us here at Mount Sinai Hospital are deeply saddened. He was an extraordinary colleague, brilliant mind and dear friend. His research team ... has revolutionized our understanding of how cells work and his legacy will always be felt here as we continue to pursue his lifelong dedication to discovery."
Fellow scientist and close friend Alan Bernstein, head of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, said Pawson would have been a likely candidate for a Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology because his sentinel research laid the groundwork for discoveries by other scientists.
The British-born Pawson was the recipient of numerous awards, including Japan's "Nobel," the Kyoto Prize, in 2008. He was also honoured with the Wolf Prize in Medicine and the Gairdner, as well as being named by the Queen in 2007 to the Order of the Companions of Honour.
Pawson's wife Maggie died of lung cancer two years ago, and Bernstein and others said he had never fully recovered from her loss. He is survived by two adult children and a stepson.