Acclaimed British Scientist Is Named Director of the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

By Elizabeth Fernandez | | March 17, 2014

Alan Ashworth, PhD, FRS

One of the world’s preeminent cancer scientists, Alan Ashworth, PhD, FRS, has been appointed the new director of the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center.  

Ashworth is chief executive of The Institute of Cancer Research, London, one of the world’s most influential cancer research organizations. Together with its partner hospital, The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, the ICR is one of the top rated cancer centers globally. 
He will formally assume the position in January 2015. 
Ashworth, whose major contribution to cancer research has been his work on genes involved in cancer risk, was a central part of the team that in 1995 discovered the gene BRCA2, which is linked to a heightened risk of some types of cancer. A decade later, Ashworth identified a way to exploit genetic weaknesses in cancer cells, including mutated BRCA2, leading to a new approach to cancer therapy. In 2008, he was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS).
As the new director of the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, Ashworth will lead a premier program that combines basic research, clinical research, epidemiology/cancer control and patient care, with a strong emphasis on translational science that moves discoveries toward new therapies.
"Alan Ashworth is the ideal leader to carry forward UCSF’s cancer enterprise in this era of genomic and precision medicine," said Sam Hawgood, MBBS, dean of the UCSF School of Medicine and incoming interim chancellor for UC San Francisco overall. "Alan was at the forefront of the world’s understanding of the genetic principles behind cancer biology and using that information to change the way patients are treated. He is renowned for both his research into the genetics of breast cancer and cancer susceptibility, and for his leadership at The Institute of Cancer Research. He will be a phenomenal addition to the UCSF community."
Ashworth succeeds cancer research pioneer Frank McCormick, PhD, FRS, an internationally renowned molecular biologist who helped pave the way toward the development of targeted cancer therapies.
McCormick launched the cancer center in 1997, building an internationally elite team of researchers and clinicians focused on translational research, and led the center to receive the highly competitive designation as the first National Cancer Institute (NCI) comprehensive cancer center in Northern California. Today, it is one of the foremost cancer centers in the nation.
"Frank has led the cancer center through tremendous advances in the field, as well as challenging times in funding those advances," said Hawgood. "Under his leadership, UCSF has gained world renown in both fundamental cancer research and clinical care, while charting a sustainable course in scientific support."
For his part, McCormick has taken on a new national leadership role as director of the RAS Project, a new laboratory of the NCI that will focus on the mutated protein RAS, which plays a key role in a third of all cancers. McCormick is internationally regarded for his work on the RAS signaling pathway and was invited by NCI Director Harold Varmus to lead the new federal initiative. He will also remain as a faculty member in the UCSF cancer center.
"I’m very proud of what we’ve done building the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center into one of the top-rated cancer centers in the country," McCormick said. "For me, it has been a wonderful experience, and I look forward to working with Alan in a different capacity in the future."
McCormick said he was delighted that Ashworth had accepted the position.
"He has the vision and expertise and leadership to take the cancer center to the next level of excellence," McCormick said. "He is a brilliant scientist who has had a tremendous impact on cancer research and cancer care in the United Kingdom. It is wonderful that he will bring his expertise and experience to San Francisco."