University of California San Francisco
Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

Year in Review: 2018

By Karen Gehrman | | December 12, 2018

Year in Review: 2018
Precision medicine, immunotherapy, and population health led the news at the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center in 2018.  Whether through expediting drug discovery, tailoring genomic sequencing, or expanding palliative care, our UCSF cancer community remained committed to improving outcomes for every cancer patient. As the year winds to a close we reflect on the past year's achievements and anticipate the exciting year ahead. 

Beyond the Headlines: Precision Medicine, Targeted Therapies

Novel drug developments and treatment regimens dominated the news in 2018. Targeted therapies, such as apalutamide for a type of prostate cancer, show the potential for successes in personalized medicine. Drug resistance in lung cancer led to the discovery of an Aurora kinase A protein which killed cancer cells permanently and caused lung tumors in mice to shrink. CAR T Therapy, where some of the patient’s own immune cells, called T-cells, are removed and reprogrammed by scientists in a lab to fight cancer and then put back into the patient, is being applied to lymphoma and leukemia.

Researchers  successfully attacked mutations in RAS, one of the most common drivers of lung, colorectal, and pancreatic cancer, by targeting the proteins it produces on the outside of the cell. RAS was also identitied as a target for using Optogenetics – where light-sensitive proteins are genetically engineered into cells in order to make them respond to pulses of light – in Non Small Cell Lung Cancer.

CRISPR gene editing was used to recreate the steps of melanoma evolution one by one in normal human skin cells in the lab. The CRISPR-based system SLICE allows scientists to rapidly assess the function of each and every gene in “primary” immune cells, providing researchers with a powerful tool to guide their decision-making when determining how best to engineer immune cells to fight cancer and a host of other diseases.

Serving the Greater Good: Population Health

In a continued win for public health in San Francisco, voters in June overwhelming approved the ban on the sale of flavored tobaccos in the city. Dr. Valerie Yerger of the San Francisco Cancer Initiative (SF CAN) Menthol Project and Carol McGruder of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council led the efforts in helping develop the initial ordinance with partners and former Supervisor Malia Cohen. 

With the arrival of epidemiologist Scarlet Lin-Gomez, MPH, PhD, and others, the Cancer Center became the new home of the Greater Bay Area Cancer Registry (GBACR), one of the oldest and most respected cancer registries in the US. The GBACR will help UCSF researchers leverage population-based data to reduce inequities across our diverse population. UCSF also joined the NIH-led All of Us research program to create a repository of health and genetic data for research.

Throughout the year, Cancer Center members presented important findings at national conferences, leading to screening and treatment recommendations for HPV-related cancers, ovarian cancer, breast cancer, and many others. Here are some highlights from our participation at AACR, ASCO, and ASH.


Strength in Numbers: Collaborations

The Cancer Center expanded partnerships in pursuit of research discoveries, precision cancer care, and public policy. New  industry partnerships leveraged resources in biotechnology and big data to spur advances in personalized medicine. Affiliations with companies such as OncoSynergy, Protogen AG, and NantHealth will help speed our development of personalized therapies for individual patients.

New partners in our affiliate hospitals network extended the reach of UCSF's oncology expertise to John Muir Health in the East Bay and Marin General Hospital in the North Bay. The UC Cancer Consortium launched a clinical trials interface to make it easier for cancer patients in California find available trials at all five UC consortium sites, regardless of where they are being treated.

Internally, the Cancer Center’s Office of Education and Training launched to provide all faculty and staff  in the Cancer Center with education, mentoring, and career development. A new symposia series highlighting research based at Parnassus was created to improve campus-wide cohesion and collaboration within the Cancer Center with regular programs at Cole Hall. An effort to promote more intra-campus collaboration continues with weekly seminars now scheduled at both Parnassus and Mission Bay.

Movers and Shakers: Spotlights

The following members of our community of physicians, scientists, administrators, and staff exemplify the dedication and drive of our mission.
Click the image to read more about the people behind the research.
U.SarkarJ.PalefskyK.Rhoads A.Sweet-CorderoN.PalmerM.RabowT.Nguyen

In Pursuit of Excellence: Awards and Honors

The Cancer Center received several significant honors in 2018. In January, our “Comprehensive” status was reaffirmed with an improved rating of “Outstanding to Exceptional” after an NCI review panel visited the Cancer Center as part of our required Cancer Center Support Grant (CCSG) renewal. In addition, in August US News & World Report again listed UCSF Medical Center as best in California and ranked 8th for cancer care in the US.

Cancer Center members received numerous accolades as national leaders in cancer research, a few of which we highlight here. At the ASCO 2018 national meeting, fellows Tim Ferng, MD, and Lauren Levine, MD, were among 72 young researchers from across the US and Canada to receive 2018 Young Investigator Awards. Alan Ashworth, PhD, FRS, was elected as a Fellow to the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) and Catherine Park, MD, was appointed an American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) Fellow. Immunologist Jason Cyster, PhD, was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Collin Blakely, MD, PhD, and Catherine Smith, MD, were named 2018 Damon Runyon Clinical Investigators. Laura Esserman, MD, MBA, was one of 21 cancer researchers acknowledged with a Giants of Cancer Care Award; and Wendell Lim, PhD, received the Byers Distinguished Professorship Award. Sony Chowdhury, PhD, won the third annual Postdoc Slam at UCSF for her humorous and persuasive pitch on anal cancer prevention. A full list of the many distinctions earned by Cancer Center members is available online.

The Cancer Center was honored to host several special visitors this year. 


Jerry Brown at UCSF

California Governor Jerry Brown joined UCSF leadership to support the Cancer Center during the NCI's site visit in January.

President of Malta at UCSF

Her Excellency Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, President of Malta, and her delegation visited UCSF's Mission Bay campus in May to discuss training opportunities for future Maltese oncologists and researchers at UCSF.

Transitions: Welcomes and Farewells

A number of critical administrative leaders were appointed in 2018. Eric Small, MD, Deputy Director and Director of Clinical Sciences since 2009, was named Chief Scientific Officer for the Cancer Center.  Laura Crocitto, MD, MHA, was named the first Vice President and Chief Medical Officer for Adult Cancer Services; and Aleksandar Rajkovic, MD, PhD, was named the first Chief Genomics Officer of UCSF Health. Maren T. Scheuner, MD, MPH, was appointed Medical Director of Cancer Genetics; and Amy Lin, MD, was named Medical Director of Clinical Informatics. Mary Feng, MD, was appointed Medical Director of the Clinical Research Network Office (CRNO); and Kim Rhoads, MD, MS, MPH, was appointed Director of the Office of Community Engagement. Additionally, our Cancer Center Membership continued to grow alongside our industry and healthy system affiliations.

In Memoriam. The UCSF cancer community mourned the loss of several people who made  a lasting impact on our patients and institution. Noted philanthropist Sanford Diller, who, along with his late wife, Helen, was among the University's most generous champions with lifetime donations to UCSF from the Helen Diller Family Foundation of more than $1.15 billion.  Charles Wilson, MD, founded the University’s Brain Tumor Research Center.  Lloyd Hollingsworth “Holly” Smith Jr., MD, served 35 years as Chair of the Department of Medicine and Associate Dean in the UCSF School of Medicine.

We also shared the grief of our extended Cancer Center family members who lost loved ones this year. Most recently, we note the loss of Corianna Seelig-Gustafson, BSN, RN, pediatric oncology nurse and wife of member Clay Gustafson; and Valerie Feichtenschlager, wife of postdoc Valentin Feichtenschlarger. We join our colleagues in remembering those we lost in 2018, and in our resolve to honor their memories, always.

Looking Ahead:  PCMB, Pursuing Advances, Cancer 2030

UCSF’s committment to the very best cancer research, prevention, and treatment is exemplified by the Precision Cancer Medicine Building (PCMB) which will open in Mission Bay in 2019. Taking shape at the corner of 3rd and 16th, the PCMB has been racing the nearby Golden State Warriors arena to completion since the groundbreaking in April of 2017. We are grateful for the generosity of donors whose foresight in supporting UCSF: The Campaign has allowed UCSF to build a one-of-a-kind care and treatment facility. When the doors open, the new structure will transform cancer care at Mission Bay.

In the coming year, exciting and innovative research will continue. Exploration into the role of vaccines, liquid biopsies, innovative drug discovery, and the potential of social media in health research are just a few areas of focus where novel approaches to public health could change the landscape of cancer at UCSF and beyond. Advances in immunotherapies and genomics will continue with our resolve to finding more personalized approaches to cancer care.

The Cancer Center is embarking on an audacious endeavor to turn its focus to the future. Cancer Research in 2030 asks the question, ‘What will Cancer Research in 2030 look like, and how do we get there?’ Task forces of Cancer Center members will advise leadership on strategic directions in research, investments in innovations and technologies, and future goals to forge new paths in discovery in the next decade. We look forward to an inspiring, engaging, invigorating year ahead.

As 2018 closes, we thank our patients, families, and donors whose trust and confidence inspired us this year. We have much to look forward to in the new year as we push forward together toward a cancer-free future.