Cancer Center Aims to Advance Medical Care Worldwide

Frank McCormick

Frank McCormick, PhD, director of the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, is looking forward to new opportunities – with the opening of a new building dedicated to research – to combat one of the world’s global health threats.

McCormick will join colleagues tomorrow in the celebration of the opening of the Helen Diller Family Cancer Research Building at Mission Bay.

While there is still no cure for cancer, McCormick says the scientific and clinical efforts underway at UCSF and its affiliated institutions are making a difference.

“Today, there are more than 11 million US cancer survivors,” McCormick says. “They are living proof that science and medicine have made real progress against this most feared disease. We are making great strides in developing treatments that offer more than chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

“At the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, we see ourselves as pioneers in transformative, interdisciplinary cancer research and its translation into improved prevention, detection and treatment.”

The cancer center is an interdisciplinary initiative that combines basic science, clinical research, epidemiology, cancer control and patient care throughout UCSF. Top scientists work with exceptional medical practitioners, exemplifying UCSF’s culture of interdisciplinary teamwork that enables UCSF to make key discoveries and to ensure that this new knowledge leads to better treatment matched to the individual patient.

UCSF’s long tradition of excellence in cancer research includes, notably, the Nobel Prize-winning work of J. Michael Bishop, MD, and Harold Varmus, MD, who discovered cancer-causing oncogenes. Their work opened new doors to exploring genetic mistakes that cause cancer, and formed the basis for some of the most important cancer research happening today.

“Discoveries and inventions by UCSF faculty already have resulted in the creation of dozens of new companies that make better products available for research and medical practice,” McCormick says.

About one-quarter of UCSF’s full-time faculty members work in cancer research and patient care.

“Based on measures such as merit-based research funds awarded through the National Cancer Institute, NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center status, the success of our clinical care programs, and the qualifications and achievements of our students and residents, I believe the level of excellence we have achieved – and that we are committed to building upon – is unsurpassed,” McCormick says.

Since Bishop and Varmus demonstrated that cancer growth is driven by certain genes that undergo abnormal changes, the floodgates of scientific discovery have swung open, McCormick explains. “Hundreds of genes that can become abnormal and foster tumor growth now have been identified,” he says.

“We have learned that even tumors of the same type in different patients may rely on different, abnormal genes to grow and survive. Some of these abnormal genes are proving to be suitable drug targets.”

Cancer center members are collaborating and consulting with pharmaceutical industry partners to identify the most promising new drug candidates. These new treatments are being tested in clinical trials in patients stricken by tumors with specific genetic profiles. “We expect that these new partnerships will result in faster progress and greater success in making new drugs available for clinical practice,” McCormick says.

“At first, some novel treatments may only be available to UCSF patients through clinical trials,” he says. “Even so, by engaging fully in the global communities of biomedical research and health care policy, and by educating future generations of researchers and medical caregivers, we aim to advance medical practice worldwide.”

Photo by Noah Berger