Bold Innovation Program Fast-Tracks Precision Medicine Research

By Carol Pott

A stock image shows a pipette tip filling in an eppendorf tubeImagine a world in which a single human cell can be separated from a tumor and dissected to see each individual cancer-causing genetic mutation. Imagine a physician-scientist using that information to precisely individualize the most effective treatment for a specific cancer. These exciting advances in medicine and health are being researched in projects recently funded by the George and Judy Marcus Program in Precision Medicine Innovation.

One of the projects, developed by Trever Bivona, MD, PhD, and James Fraser, PhD, looks at precisely treating disease-driving genetic mutations and may eventually produce a method of activating or inhibiting explicit mutations in proteins. If their project is successful, a whole new class of drug therapies could be developed to activate or inhibit specific proteins that cause cancerous mutations.

The program fast-tracks precision medicine research and was established through a $4 million gift from longtime UCSF supporters George and Judy Marcus. “We are really honored to be a part of this program,” says Bivona. “Creative funding like this is transforming innovation in medicine.”

Projects Cover Breadth of Precision Medicine

The program selected 12 projects encompassing 24 departments and 36 scientists across UCSF. The winning proposals cover the breadth of precision medicine and include projects analyzing genome-wide structural variations, testing the predictive potential of RNA, developing a novel approach to rheumatoid arthritis treatment, and personalizing lung cancer oncology, to name a few.  

The Marcus’s generosity is spurring daring ideas and speeding their translation from the lab to patient care.

Chancellor Sam Hawgood


“The George and Judy Marcus Program is a pivotal institutional investment in precision medicine at UCSF. Precision Medicine is a field that is poised to transform health,” says Chancellor Sam Hawgood, MBBS. “The Marcus’s generosity is spurring daring ideas and speeding their translation from the lab to patient care. Their visionary partnership is creating excitement across the university and accelerating our contributions to this important field.”

Precision medicine is an emerging approach to disease treatment and prevention using biological and biomedical data to develop personalized treatments and guide more precise, predictive and preventive medicine.

“Funding brave ideas and collaborative innovation in science and medicine is a priority for us,” says George Marcus. “UCSF is full of scientists thinking outside the usual framework. We are proud to be associated with pushing research to the next level.”

Fast Pace of Projects

The George and Judy Marcus Program funds research to improve patient outcomes and fosters high-risk, high-impact team science innovation. However, in contrast to other research funds, the Marcus Program is on an accelerated timeline. With an unusual fast track from application to funding, all projects must be able to yield discovery within the one-year funding period.

Trever Bivona
Trever Bivona, MD, PhD

“A very important and exciting aspect of this program is speed,” Bivona says. “Speed matters in scientific research when you have bold ideas and are forming compelling collaborations. You want the momentum, you want it early, and you want to sustain it. The quick process and launch of this program are really special.”

George Marcus is a member of the UCSF Foundation Board of Overseers and is a former UC Regent. He and his wife, Judy, developed the concept for the Marcus Program based on insights gathered during George’s years of service to the University and partnership with the chancellor. The couple also recently donated $1 million to support basic science PhD students through the George and Judy Marcus Discovery Fellowship Fund and $1 million to the Chancellor’s Annual Fund.

“Like the chancellor, we see personalized medicine as the future of health,” says George Marcus. “Encouraging team science at UCSF is an investment in that future.”

A complete list of the Marcus Program awardees is available at the program's website.