University of California San Francisco
Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center
Alan Ashworth, PhD, FRS

Alan Ashworth, PhD, FRS

President, UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center
Senior Vice President for Cancer Services, UCSF Health
Professor of Medicine, Division of Hematology/Oncology, Department of Medicine, UCSF
E. Dixon Heise Distinguished Professor in Oncology, UCSF

Cancer Center Program Memberships

Cancer Genetics

Research Summary

Alan Ashworth, PhD, FRS, is President of the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, and Sr. Vice President for Cancer Services with UCSF Health. Prior to joining UCSF in January 2015, he served as Chief Executive of the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and the Director of the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Centre in London, United Kingdom.

A translational biologist and laboratory researcher, Ashworth's research focuses on understanding breast cancer genetics to improve the treatment and care of patients. He was a key part of the team that identified the BRCA2 breast cancer susceptibility gene that is linked to an increased risk for some types of cancer. Ten years later, he discovered how to kill BRCA1- and 2-related tumor cells by treating them with PARP inhibitors which are drugs that increase the damage caused by the broken DNA repair machinery in those cells. This exemplifies the principle of synthetic lethality as cancer therapy. Three different PARP inhibitors are now approved by the FDA.

In 2016, Ashworth and UCSF's Pamela Munster, MD, established the Center for BRCA Research, one of only two such centers in the US. The mission of the Center is to provide a place for families with BRCA and other mutations to receive personalized care and planning for their long-term health and well-being. He also started the San Francisco Cancer Initiative (SF CAN) that launched in 2016. SF CAN is the first comprehensive cancer plan for a major city and its partners include the City of San Francisco and numerous health and community organizations. Ashworth also chairs the UC Cancer Consortium, an alliance of the five UC cancer centers holding comprehensive cancer center status, the highest designation possible from the National Institutes of Health's National Cancer Institute. The Consortium's projects include precision medicine, clinical trials, population health science, best practices in harnessing big data to improve health, and political engagement for public benefit.

Ashworth is an elected member of EMBO, the Academy of Medical Sciences, and a Fellow of the Royal Society. He has received a number of scientific prizes and awards, including
The European Society of Medical Oncology Lifetime Achievement Award,
the David T. Workman Memorial Award of the Samuel Waxman Cancer Research Foundation, the Meyenburg Foundation's Cancer Research Award, the Basser Global Prize, the Genetics Society Medal, and the 2017 Brinker Award for Scientific Distinction in Basic Science from the Susan G. Komen Foundation.


1978 – 1981, BSc (Hons), Chemistry and Biochemistry, Imperial College of Science and Technology, University of London
1981 – 1984, PhD, Biochemistry, University College London
1986 – 1988, Postdoctoral Fellow, The Institute of Cancer Research
1984 – 1986, Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Biochemistry, University College London

Professional Experience

  • 2014 - present
    Director, Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, and Professor of Medicine, Division of Hematology/Oncology, Department of Medicine, UCSF
  • 2011 – 2014
    Chief Executive Officer, The Institute of Cancer Research
  • 1999 – 2011
    Director, Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Centre
  • 1997 – 2014
    Professor of Molecular Biology, The Institute of Cancer Research
  • 1988 – present
    Team Leader, Gene Function, The Institute of Cancer Research

Honors & Awards

  • 2017
    Brinker Award for Scientific Distinction in Basic Science, Susan G. Komen
  • 2016
    Drexel Prize in Cancer Biology
  • 2016
    Appointed to American Association for Cancer Research Board of Directors
  • 2015
    Genetics Society Medal
  • 2015
    Spirit of Empowerment Award, Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered (FORCE)
  • 2013
    Basser Global Prize
  • 2012
    Scientist in Residence - University Duisberg-Essen/Essener Sparkasse
  • 2012
    Pathological Society of Great Britain and Ireland’s Goudie Medal
  • 2010
    AACR Distinguished Lectureship in Breast Cancer, San Antonio
  • 2010
    Meyenburg Foundation Cancer Research Award
  • 2010
    Samuel Waxman Cancer Research Foundation David Workman Memorial Award
  • 2009
    Elected Fellow of the European Academy of Cancer Sciences
  • 2009
    ESMO Lifetime Achievement Award
  • 2008
    Elected Fellow of the Royal Society
  • 2002
    Elected Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences
  • 1999
    Elected to EMBO
  • 1991
    British Postgraduate Medical Federation Prize

Selected Publications

  1. Hiatt RA, Sibley A, Fejerman L, Glantz S, Nguyen T, Pasick R, Palmer N, Perkins A, Potter MB, Somsouk M, Vargas RA, van 't Veer LJ, Ashworth A. The San Francisco Cancer Initiative: A Community Effort To Reduce The Population Burden Of Cancer. Health Aff (Millwood). 2018 Jan; 37(1):54-61.
    View on PubMed
  2. Chong IY, Aronson L, Bryant H, Gulati A, Campbell J, Elliott R, Pettitt S, Wilkerson P, Lambros MB, Reis-Filho JS, Ramessur A, Davidson M, Chau I, Cunningham D, Ashworth A, Lord CJ. Mapping genetic vulnerabilities reveals BTK as a novel therapeutic target in oesophageal cancer. Gut. 2017 Aug 22.
    View on PubMed
  3. Oliver AW, Swift S, Lord CJ, Ashworth A, Pearl LH. Structural basis for recruitment of BRCA2 by PALB2. EMBO Rep. 2017 Jul; 18(7):1264.
    View on PubMed
  4. Dréan A, Williamson CT, Brough R, Brandsma I, Menon M, Konde A, Garcia-Murillas I, Pemberton HN, Frankum J, Rafiq R, Badham N, Campbell J, Gulati A, Turner NC, Pettitt SJ, Ashworth A, Lord CJ. Modeling Therapy Resistance in BRCA1/2-Mutant Cancers. Mol Cancer Ther. 2017 Sep; 16(9):2022-2034.
    View on PubMed
  5. Brewer HR, Jones ME, Schoemaker MJ, Ashworth A, Swerdlow AJ. Family history and risk of breast cancer: an analysis accounting for family structure. Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2017 Aug; 165(1):193-200.
    View on PubMed
  6. Nikkilä J, Kumar R, Campbell J, Brandsma I, Pemberton HN, Wallberg F, Nagy K, Scheer I, Vertessy BG, Serebrenik AA, Monni V, Harris RS, Pettitt SJ, Ashworth A, Lord CJ. Elevated APOBEC3B expression drives a kataegic-like mutation signature and replication stress-related therapeutic vulnerabilities in p53-defective cells. Br J Cancer. 2017 Jun 27; 117(1):113-123.
    View on PubMed
  7. Quigley D, Alumkal JJ, Wyatt AW, Kothari V, Foye A, Lloyd P, Aggarwal R, Kim W, Lu E, Schwartzman J, Beja K, Annala M, Das R, Diolaiti M, Pritchard C, Thomas G, Tomlins S, Knudsen K, Lord CJ, Ryan C, Youngren J, Beer TM, Ashworth A, Small EJ, Feng FY. Analysis of Circulating Cell-Free DNA Identifies Multiclonal Heterogeneity of BRCA2 Reversion Mutations Associated with Resistance to PARP Inhibitors. Cancer Discov. 2017 Sep; 7(9):999-1005.
    View on PubMed
  8. Lord CJ, Ashworth A. PARP inhibitors: Synthetic lethality in the clinic. Science. 2017 03 17; 355(6330):1152-1158.
    View on PubMed
  9. Pfister SX, Ashworth A. Marked for death: targeting epigenetic changes in cancer. Nat Rev Drug Discov. 2017 Apr; 16(4):241-263.
    View on PubMed
  10. Pettitt SJ, Krastev DB, Pemberton HN, Fontebasso Y, Frankum J, Rehman FL, Brough R, Song F, Bajrami I, Rafiq R, Wallberg F, Kozarewa I, Fenwick K, Armisen-Garrido J, Swain A, Gulati A, Campbell J, Ashworth A, Lord CJ. Genome-wide barcoded transposon screen for cancer drug sensitivity in haploid mouse embryonic stem cells. Sci Data. 2017 Mar 01; 4:170020.
    View on PubMed
  11. Schoemaker MJ, Jones ME, Allen S, Hoare J, Ashworth A, Dowsett M, Swerdlow AJ. Childhood body size and pubertal timing in relation to adult mammographic density phenotype. Breast Cancer Res. 2017 Feb 07; 19(1):13.
    View on PubMed
  12. Williamson CT, Miller R, Pemberton HN, Jones SE, Campbell J, Konde A, Badham N, Rafiq R, Brough R, Gulati A, Ryan CJ, Francis J, Vermulen PB, Reynolds AR, Reaper PM, Pollard JR, Ashworth A, Lord CJ. ATR inhibitors as a synthetic lethal therapy for tumours deficient in ARID1A. Nat Commun. 2016 Dec 13; 7:13837.
    View on PubMed
  13. Dréan A, Lord CJ, Ashworth A. PARP inhibitor combination therapy. Crit Rev Oncol Hematol. 2016 Dec; 108:73-85.
    View on PubMed
  14. Southey MC, Goldgar DE, Winqvist R, Pylkäs K, Couch F, Tischkowitz M, Foulkes WD, Dennis J, Michailidou K, van Rensburg EJ, Heikkinen T, Nevanlinna H, Hopper JL, Dörk T, Claes KB, Reis-Filho J, Teo ZL, Radice P, Catucci I, Peterlongo P, Tsimiklis H, Odefrey FA, Dowty JG, Schmidt MK, Broeks A, Hogervorst FB, Verhoef S, Carpenter J, Clarke C, Scott RJ, Fasching PA, Haeberle L, Ekici AB, Beckmann MW, Peto J, Dos-Santos-Silva I, Fletcher O, Johnson N, Bolla MK, Sawyer EJ, Tomlinson I, Kerin MJ, Miller N, Marme F, Burwinkel B, Yang R, Guénel P, Truong T, Menegaux F, Sanchez M, Bojesen S, Nielsen SF, Flyger H, Benitez J, Zamora MP, Perez JI, Menéndez P, Anton-Culver H, Neuhausen S, Ziogas A, Clarke CA, Brenner H, Arndt V, Stegmaier C, Brauch H, Brüning T, Ko YD, Muranen TA, Aittomäki K, Blomqvist C, Bogdanova NV, Antonenkova NN, Lindblom A, Margolin S, Mannermaa A, Kataja V, Kosma VM, Hartikainen JM, Spurdle AB, Investigators K, Wauters E, Smeets D, Beuselinck B, Floris G, Chang-Claude J, Rudolph A, Seibold P, Flesch-Janys D, Olson JE, Vachon C, Pankratz VS, McLean C, Haiman CA, Henderson BE, Schumacher F, Le Marchand L, Kristensen V, Alnæs GG, Zheng W, Hunter DJ, Lindstrom S, Hankinson SE, Kraft P, Andrulis I, Knight JA, Glendon G, Mulligan AM, Jukkola-Vuorinen A, Grip M, Kauppila S, Devilee P, Tollenaar RA, Seynaeve C, Hollestelle A, Garcia-Closas M, Figueroa J, Chanock SJ, Lissowska J, Czene K, Darabi H, Eriksson M, Eccles DM, Rafiq S, Tapper WJ, Gerty SM, Hooning MJ, Martens JW, Collée JM, Tilanus-Linthorst M, Hall P, Li J, Brand JS, Humphreys K, Cox A, Reed MW, Luccarini C, Baynes C, Dunning AM, Hamann U, Torres D, Ulmer HU, Rüdiger T, Jakubowska A, Lubinski J, Jaworska K, Durda K, Slager S, Toland AE, Ambrosone CB, Yannoukakos D, Swerdlow A, Ashworth A, Orr N, Jones M, González-Neira A, Pita G, Alonso MR, Álvarez N, Herrero D, Tessier DC, Vincent D, Bacot F, Simard J, Dumont M, Soucy P, Eeles R, Muir K, Wiklund F, Gronberg H, Schleutker J, Nordestgaard BG, Weischer M, Travis RC, Neal D, Donovan JL, Hamdy FC, Khaw KT, Stanford JL, Blot WJ, Thibodeau S, Schaid DJ, Kelley JL, Maier C, Kibel AS, Cybulski C, Cannon-Albright L, Butterbach K, Park J, Kaneva R, Batra J, Teixeira MR, Kote-Jarai Z, Olama AA, Benlloch S, Renner SP, Hartmann A, Hein A, Ruebner M, Lambrechts D, Van Nieuwenhuysen E, Vergote I, Lambretchs S, Doherty JA, Rossing MA, Nickels S, Eilber U, Wang-Gohrke S, Odunsi K, Sucheston-Campbell LE, Friel G, Lurie G, Killeen JL, Wilkens LR, Goodman MT, Runnebaum I, Hillemanns PA, Pelttari LM, Butzow R, Modugno F, Edwards RP, Ness RB, Moysich KB, du Bois A, Heitz F, Harter P, Kommoss S, Karlan BY, Walsh C, Lester J, Jensen A, Kjaer SK, Høgdall E, Peissel B, Bonanni B, Bernard L, Goode EL, Fridley BL, Vierkant RA, Cunningham JM, Larson MC, Fogarty ZC, Kalli KR, Liang D, Lu KH, Hildebrandt MA, Wu X, Levine DA, Dao F, Bisogna M, Berchuck A, Iversen ES, Marks JR, Akushevich L, Cramer DW, Schildkraut J, Terry KL, Poole EM, Stampfer M, Tworoger SS, Bandera EV, Orlow I, Olson SH, Bjorge L, Salvesen HB, van Altena AM, Aben KK, Kiemeney LA, Massuger LF, Pejovic T, Bean Y, Brooks-Wilson A, Kelemen LE, Cook LS, Le ND, Górski B, Gronwald J, Menkiszak J, Høgdall CK, Lundvall L, Nedergaard L, Engelholm SA, Dicks E, Tyrer J, Campbell I, McNeish I, Paul J, Siddiqui N, Glasspool R, Whittemore AS, Rothstein JH, McGuire V, Sieh W, Cai H, Shu XO, Teten RT, Sutphen R, McLaughlin JR, Narod SA, Phelan CM, Monteiro AN, Fenstermacher D, Lin HY, Permuth JB, Sellers TA, Chen YA, Tsai YY, Chen Z, Gentry-Maharaj A, Gayther SA, Ramus SJ, Menon U, Wu AH, Pearce CL, Van Den Berg D, Pike MC, Dansonka-Mieszkowska A, Plisiecka-Halasa J, Moes-Sosnowska J, Kupryjanczyk J, Pharoah PD, Song H, Winship I, Chenevix-Trench G, Giles GG, Tavtigian SV, Easton DF, Milne RL. PALB2, CHEK2 and ATM rare variants and cancer risk: data from COGS. J Med Genet. 2016 Dec; 53(12):800-811.
    View on PubMed
  15. Jones ME, Schoemaker MJ, Wright L, McFadden E, Griffin J, Thomas D, Hemming J, Wright K, Ashworth A, Swerdlow AJ. Menopausal hormone therapy and breast cancer: what is the true size of the increased risk? Br J Cancer. 2016 Aug 23; 115(5):607-15.
    View on PubMed
  16. Miller RE, Brough R, Bajrami I, Williamson CT, McDade S, Campbell J, Kigozi A, Rafiq R, Pemberton H, Natrajan R, Joel J, Astley H, Mahoney C, Moore JD, Torrance C, Gordan JD, Webber JT, Levin RS, Shokat KM, Bandyopadhyay S, Lord CJ, Ashworth A. Synthetic Lethal Targeting of ARID1A-Mutant Ovarian Clear Cell Tumors with Dasatinib. Mol Cancer Ther. 2016 Jul; 15(7):1472-84.
    View on PubMed
  17. Dhawan M, Ryan CJ, Ashworth A. DNA Repair Deficiency Is Common in Advanced Prostate Cancer: New Therapeutic Opportunities. Oncologist. 2016 Aug; 21(8):940-5.
    View on PubMed
  18. Beck D, Zobel J, Barber R, Evans S, Lezina L, Allchin RL, Blades M, Elliott R, Lord CJ, Ashworth A, Porter AC, Wagner SD. Synthetic Lethal Screen Demonstrates That a JAK2 Inhibitor Suppresses a BCL6-dependent IL10RA/JAK2/STAT3 Pathway in High Grade B-cell Lymphoma. J Biol Chem. 2016 Aug 05; 291(32):16686-98.
    View on PubMed
  19. Rajan N, Andersson MK, Sinclair N, Fehr A, Hodgson K, Lord CJ, Kazakov DV, Vanecek T, Ashworth A, Stenman G. Overexpression of MYB drives proliferation of CYLD-defective cylindroma cells. J Pathol. 2016 Jun; 239(2):197-205.
    View on PubMed
  20. Costa-Cabral S, Brough R, Konde A, Aarts M, Campbell J, Marinari E, Riffell J, Bardelli A, Torrance C, Lord CJ, Ashworth A. Correction: CDK1 Is a Synthetic Lethal Target for KRAS Mutant Tumours. PLoS One. 2016; 11(4):e0154007.
    View on PubMed

Go to UCSF Profiles, powered by CTSI