Krishna Komanduri, MD, an international leader in hematology-oncology, transplantation and cellular immunotherapy, is the new chief of UCSF’s Division of Hematology and Oncology. He is also physician-in-chief of the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center and clinical director of the UCSF Living Therapeutics Initiative.
Komanduri comes to UCSF from the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami, where he was director of the Adult Stem Cell Transplant Program, associate director for Clinical Innovation, and chief of the Transplantation and Cellular Therapy Division.
In this interview, Komanduri discusses expanding access to precision medicine, his goals for translational research and why he’s landed his dream job.
Q: What prompted you to join UCSF?
A: I’ve had the good fortune to work at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center for the past 14 years. During that time, I’ve been privileged to lead a dedicated group of individuals who built a first-rate program in blood and marrow transplantation and cellular immunotherapy. So, I wasn’t unhappy or looking for change. But three years ago, I was asked by Bob Wachter, chair of the Department of Medicine, to serve as an external adviser to the Division of Hematology and Oncology. I was thrilled to see how much it had grown clinically and scientifically since my time as a fellow and junior faculty member there in the late 1990s.
My training and early career experience at UCSF shaped my personal trajectory. I’ve always had deep respect for the institution and its excellence in science and commitment to outstanding clinical care. When I was asked to return in the positions of chief of the Division of Hematology and Oncology and physician-in-chief of the Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, the opportunity was simply too good to pass up. As I’ve said many times, this really is my dream job.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish in this new role?
A: My immediate focus will be getting to know the approximately 75 faculty members in the division, their diverse clinical and scientific interests and their needs and concerns. Leveraging their talents will be my highest priority. To facilitate their success, it will be important to bridge interests within the division with the scientific mission of the Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center and the clinical excellence and strategic priorities of UCSF Health.
Basic understanding of cancer biology, including the Nobel Prize-winning efforts of UCSF’s Michael Bishop and Harold Varmus, has led to promising precision approaches to many cancers. We are now leveraging immunotherapeutic interventions, from checkpoint therapies to adoptive T-cell therapies and hematopoietic transplantation, to dramatically improve outcomes for an increasingly large subset of patients. However, challenges that still loom large include suboptimal access, symptom burden and complications of survivorship, and increasing costs of care. Providing the best possible care, while addressing these issues in a diverse and deserving community, will be challenging but exciting.
Q: Are there research areas you’d like to expand?
A: The quality of the basic science and clinical care at UCSF is already exceptional. One key priority for me will be to create more bridges between groundbreaking labs and clinical investigators, whether in cancer biology or immunology, to develop novel clinical trials that UCSF will lead and translate into standard therapies.
I’m particularly excited about the UCSF Living Therapeutics Initiative, which will leverage interdisciplinary science to build increasingly effective live cell therapies for a broad range of cancers, well beyond hematologic malignancies, where we have seen the greatest success to date.
However, it is critical that we approach all aspects of the cancer continuum, from access to precision oncology to survivorship, with thoughtful clinical strategies and trials that shape standards of care. UCSF should rise to the top of academic cancer centers, and I look forward to working with talented physicians, staff, strategic leaders and community advocates to make that happen.