Welcome to Garth Powis, Ph.D., new Cancer Center director

By Heather Buschman, Ph.D.
February 14, 2013

We’re happy to announce that Garth Powis, Ph.D., has been appointed professor and director of our Cancer Center, one of seven National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated basic research cancer centers in the U.S. He will also assume the Jeanne and Gary Herberger Leadership Chair in Cancer Research. Powis previously held leadership positions at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas. He will join our faculty May 1.

Powis will replace Kristiina Vuori, M.D., Ph.D., who has served as Cancer Center director since 2005. Vuori is currently Sanford-Burnham’s president and interim CEO. She also holds the Pauline and Stanley Foster Presidential Chair.

“Garth is an accomplished cancer researcher and leader, as well as a wonderful colleague,” Vuori said. “Our Cancer Center’s leadership, and I personally, look forward to working with him to further enhance our world-class laboratory research programs and drug discovery capabilities as we translate our research findings into novel cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment strategies.”

About Garth Powis

Powis is a native of the U.K., where he trained at Oxford University. He worked at the Mayo Clinic, becoming deputy chair of Pharmacology; at University of Arizona Cancer Center as director of Basic Research; and most recently at MD Anderson Cancer Center, where he served as chair of Experimental Therapeutics and director of the Center for Targeted Therapy.

Powis is a molecular and translational pharmacologist with more than 350 publications and 15 patents. His research focuses on the mechanisms that enable cancer cells to survive stress. Powis’ work has resulted in three novel cancer drugs currently in clinical trials. The expertise he brings to Sanford-Burnham encompasses all stages of cancer drug discovery and development, from early target identification to clinical studies with cancer patients.

“I am looking forward to this new opportunity to build upon the already exceptional basic research ongoing at Sanford-Burnham, both in cancer and other areas,” Powis said. “I hope to also bring an increased translational focus with a particular goal of tailoring new cancer therapies to individual patients, moving toward personalized or precision medicine. At the end of the day, all researchers should be proud to say their work has in some way helped patients.”

About Sanford-Burnham’s NCI-designated Cancer Center

Research in Sanford-Burnham’s NCI-designated Cancer Center is dedicated to revealing the fundamental molecular causes of cancer and to applying this knowledge to human health. The Center’s research goal is to pre-empt cancer before it develops, detect the disease at its earliest point and discover new therapies for its treatment.

Sanford-Burnham cancer researchers have built a strong reputation on the study of apoptosis (the process of cellular suicide) and other forms of cell death. These mechanisms help keep cell growth in check; when they malfunction, tumors can form. Other areas of scientific prominence include studies on tumor metastasis, cell signaling and the role of cancer stem cells in tumor development. An overarching theme of small molecule-based drug discovery has forged significant connections between the Center’s basic research and the development of molecular probes and lead molecules for cancer therapy.

Ongoing studies in the Cancer Center yield tangible medical benefits; the work of Sanford-Burnham scientists has led to two FDA-approved drugs and eight experimental cancer therapies currently in clinical trials.

Sanford-Burnham has held the NCI designation since 1981, when the Institute (then known as the La Jolla Cancer Research Foundation) first received a Cancer Center Support Grant. In 2010, the NCI renewed the designation with their highest rating of “Outstanding,” along with an unprecedented 21 percent increase in grant funding. This funding provides significant support to most of the Institute’s 33 core facilities—centralized resources, such as cellular imaging, x-ray crystallography and proteomics, that provide Sanford-Burnham investigators with access to state-of-the-art instrumentation, cutting-edge technology and technical expertise.


Read coverage in U-T San Diego: Sanford-Burnham recruits top cancer expert

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About Author

Heather Buschman, Ph.D.

Heather was an SBP Communications staff member.


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