Avera Cancer Institute

Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Vice President of Molecular and Experimental Research, Avera Cancer Institute
Director, The Darwin Foundation

Research

Dr. Leyland-Jones is best known for leading major changes in breast cancer clinical trials and treatments, as well as his ongoing focus on how genomics plays a vital role in the fight against breast cancer.

When conducting genomics research and developing personalized treatments for cancer patients, biomarkers are key. Because these distinct biological indicators are so important, there is a growing and urgent need for biomarker profiling and validation in the cancer research community. As the Director of the Darwin Foundation (formerly the Consortium for Clinical Diagnostics), Dr. Leyland-Jones is partnering with scientists at research institutions and biopharmaceutical companies who are dedicated to facilitating genomic research and diagnostics. The Darwin Foundation provides a centralized infrastructure where disease genes and genetic signatures can be identified and validated. The Darwin Foundation also develops medical response tests, as well as new and improved diagnostic tests for a variety of diseases, including cancers.

Throughout his career, Dr. Leyland-Jones helped develop drugs that are now mainstays of oncologic breast cancer treatment (such as the anthracycline, antimetabolite and platin families), as well as the targeted therapies trastuzumab (Herceptin®) and bevacizumab (Avastin®). He also helped disprove some theories about how to best treat breast cancer patients. For example, he demonstrated that two years of adjuvant trastuzumab was no better than the standard one year of treatment for women with HER2-positive, early-stage breast cancer.
Additionally, Dr. Leyland-Jones helped drive global collaboration and material collections as a member of the Executive Steering Committee of the Tissue Bank Consortium in Asia that was founded and operated by NFCR.

Bio

Brian Leyland-Jones, BSc (Ist class Hons), MB BS, PhD, FRACP, FRCPC is the Chief Medical Officer and Scientific Advisory Board Member for the National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR) and Chief Scientific Officer of The Darwin Foundation.   He also serves as the Chief Medical Officer of OTraces, Xylonix and the N OF 1 Mission, collectively devoted to the implementation of prevention and cure of malignancy globally.  He sits on several national and international boards including the Asian Foundation for Cancer Research (AFCR), NED Biosystems, Non-Pareil, Ratio and is Director Emeritus for the WIN Consortium.  He founded Xanthus, AKESOgen and Viviphi.

Dr.  Leyland-Jones holds biochemistry, medical, and doctoral degrees from the University of London. Following residency training at Hammersmith, Brompton, St. Bartholomew’s and London hospitals, he completed a clinical pharmacology fellowship at Cornell University and a medical oncology fellowship at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. He then joined the academic staff at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and New York Hospitals with a special research interest in Early Phase clinical, clinical pharmacological and biomarker evaluation of many anticancer compounds, including the platinums and anthracycline analogs in use today. In 1983, he moved to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to head the Developmental Chemotherapy section. During his time with the NCI, he was responsible for the overall development of approximately 70 anti-cancer compounds in various stages of transition from in-vitro screening to Phase III clinical trials, including overseeing the early development of paclitaxel in Phase 1 and 2 trials. From 1990 to 2000, he served as founding chair of Oncology and director of the McGill University Comprehensive Cancer Centre. He recruited and built a broad multifaceted cancer centre, including a robust cross-hospital clinical trials enterprise, with deep clinical pharmacologic and biomarker support. Dr. Leyland-Jones continued as the Minda de Gunzberg Chair in Oncology and professor of medicine at McGill University in Montreal, Canada for 7 additional years, focusing on the development and biomarker strategies of several of the new targeted oncologic agents.

He joined Emory University in 2007. As Director of the Winship Cancer Centre and Associate Vice-President of Health Sciences, Dr. Leyland-Jones lead the Centre to obtain National Cancer Institute Cancer Centre Designation, the first in the State of Georgia, and for the first time in 30 years.  Dr. Leyland-Jones was instrumental in building the Genomics Medicine Program at the Avera Cancer Institute in Sioux Falls, SD where he was the Vice President of Molecular and Experimental Medicine from 2014-2019.   Dr. Leyland-Jones’ principal academic contributions have been in the fields of anticancer therapy development, the pharmacodynamics, pharmacokinetics, and pharmacogenetics of oncological clinical trials, the translation of preclinical models into the clinic, biomarker endpoints in Phase I/II clinical trials, and screening and mechanistic studies of novel targeted and chemotherapeutic anticancer agents.

Dr. Leyland-Jones is the recipient of numerous research grants, and has served as principal, co-principal and co-investigator on more than 100 clinical studies. He has authored and co-authored more than 210 peer-reviewed articles and book contributions, 25 books and book chapters, 425 abstracts and 35 patents.  He has a robust speaking and private consulting practice that takes him all over the world.

Related Content

Research Highlight: Preventing Breast Cancer Brain Metastasis

National Foundation for Cancer Research funded researcher Dr. Daniel A Haber recently unearthed an exciting discovery that may add years to the lives of late-stage breast cancer patients. Dr. Haber is fascinated by understanding drug resistance on a deeper level by studying individual tumor cells in patients’ blood. In December 2020, Dr. Haber and his team shared their exciting findings on how brain metastasis, or the spread of cancer to the brain, may be prevented. Brain metastases occur in about 10% of all patients with cancer and in as many as a third of women with advanced metastatic breast cancer. Though experts have made great strides in suppressing the spread of cancer, there is still little known about the cellular pathways that enable cancer cells to selectively grow in the brain; that is, until Dr. Haber and his research team identified a signaling pathway which appeared significantly more active in brain metastases from breast cancer. “We were looking for what properties of some breast cancer cells made it possible for the cells to grow in the brain, which is a rare but often deadly complication of breast cancer,” Dr. Haber explained. “We weren’t sure what we would find. In a way that’s what makes the discovery process so exciting.” The research commenced approximately 10 years ago while investigating circulating tumor cells (CTCs). As their research progressed, the team homed in on a specific signaling pathway named HIF1A. Using cells from women with breast cancer, the team observed how these cells acted in animal models. It was discovered that if HIF1A was suppressed, the rate of proliferation (or rapid growth) was reduced. Simply put, blocking the HIF1A signaling pathway could reduce the rate of brain metastasis or even prevent it all together. “HIF1A is not specific to brain metastasis, since it’s a very broadly activated pathway in many cancers,” Dr. Haber began. “However, it appears to be more active in brain metastases from breast cancer than in primary breast cancers, and that may help explain what makes these metastases to the brain so unique and so difficult to treat.” The pathway identified in this research is already well known in the cancer world, however its special relevance to the brain was not known until now. Theoretically, a drug could be developed to suppress HIF1A and, in turn, prevent the spread of cancer. While a very promising discovery, Dr. Haber explains that there is far more work to be done. “There are a few HIF1A suppressing drugs now being tested in clinical trials for other indications,” Dr. Haber said, “However, we would have to expand this to multiple different models and systems before we could contemplate an intervention.” In regard to the length of time it takes to have a discovery such as this transitioned to mainstream treatment, Dr. Haber explains that it “depends on the discovery, its potential applications and some ‘luck’.” While the process from discovery to clinical treatment is getting faster all the time, it is likely going to take five to ten years before this finding is implemented into treatment. As for Dr. Haber, he has already planned plenty of work […]

The Forgotten Men of Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer Awareness Month, observed during October, presents many opportunities to acknowledge patients and survivors as well as opportunities to remind women to schedule their regular screening. The world lights up in pink, the color of the breast cancer ribbon, and shares messages of support to those affected. With 1 in 8 women estimated to be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in her life, October reminds us all how important it is to self-examine one’s breasts as well as to schedule a mammogram. However, in the urgent messaging towards women, the men affected by breast cancer are often forgotten.  About Male Breast Cancer Breast cancer in men is rare, but it does affect approximately https://www.komen.org/breast-cancer/treatment/issues/male-breast-cancer/ in the United States each year. Though this only accounts for about 1% of all breast cancer diagnoses in the United States, it is important that men are aware of their risk of developing breast cancer. Many men, and women for that matter, are not aware that breast cancer affects both sexes. However, the truth is that all people are born with breast tissue making every individual susceptible to the disease. Of the men who develop breast cancer, the majority of the cases are infiltrating ductal carcinoma (IDC). IDC means that the cells in or around the ducts begin to invade the surrounding tissue. Breast Cancer Detection for Men Acknowledging that men can be diagnosed with breast cancer is the first step in protecting oneself from the disease. This knowledge allows men to pay attention to changes in the breast or nipple area and to speak to a doctor when identifying such changes. A common warning sign of breast cancer is a lump in the breast, chest, or underarm region. These lumps are often painless but should trigger men’s concern. Other early warning signs include dimpling or puckering of the skin, change in the size of the breast region, changes to the skin texture, an inverted nipple, or even discharge from the nipple. When men identify these warning signs and speak to a doctor, the likelihood of treating cancer at an early stage increases significantly. Treating cancer at an early stage gives all patients a higher chance of survival.  While all men should be monitoring their bodies for unusual changes, some specific men are at an increased risk of breast cancer. In general, men over 60 years old and those with a family history of cancer are at an increased risk for cancer. Overweight and obese men are also at an increased risk. Additionally, researchers have discovered that men with a specific gene mutation are more likely to develop breast cancer than those without it. The BRCA2 gene mutation is an inherited mutation and not only increases the likelihood of breast cancer but other cancers as well.  Throughout Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the public is made aware of the recommended screening processes for women concerning breast cancer. However, since breast cancer is quite rare amongst men, there are no recommended screenings for the average man. This makes it especially important for men to monitor their bodies for changes and speak to a doctor if they have any concerns. Those who have a family […]

Mastectomy and Breast Reconstruction: What Breast Cancer Patients Should Know

Mastectomy is just one of the treatment options available to breast cancer patients. Learn more about what to expect before, during, and after the procedure, as well as some tips to help you prepare. A breast cancer diagnosis can be devastating, and navigating potential treatment options can be stressful and overwhelming. One treatment option available to some breast cancer patients is undergoing a mastectomy—the surgical removal of the entire breast.  Understanding Your Options Mastectomy is typically recommended for breast cancer patients who1: do not want or are unable to have radiation therapy have previously undergone surgery to remove cancer in the breast  have multiple tumors in the same breast have a large tumor (greater than five centimeters) have a genetic factor (such as BRCA) that increases the chance for cancer recurrence in the future  or have been diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer However, as with many other cancer treatments, there is no “one size fits all” approach when it comes to mastectomy. In fact, there are five different types of mastectomies2, including: ●       Partial Mastectomy: The surgeon removes the breast tissue in which cancer cells have been detected, as well as a predetermined margin of normal tissue from the surrounding area. ●       “Simple” or “Total” Mastectomy: The surgeon removes the whole breast but does not touch the lymph nodes in the underarm area or the muscles below the breast. ●       Modified Radical Mastectomy: The surgeon removes the whole breast as well as the lymph nodes in the underarm area. The muscles below the breast remain untouched. ●       Radical Mastectomy: The surgeon removes the whole breast, all surrounding lymph nodes, and the muscles below the breast. ●       Nipple-sparing Mastectomy: The surgeon removes the whole breast, but the nipple is left intact. Undergoing Mastectomy: What to Expect Mastectomy is a major surgical procedure. Patients may alleviate some of the stress associated with surgery by educating themselves about what to expect before, during, and after the procedure. Before your procedure, it helps to make a list of questions and bring them with you when you visit your surgeon. Getting answers to questions such as: “What are the risks associated with this treatment?” “How can I best prepare myself emotionally for the surgery?” and “What will the surgery and my hospital stay be like?” can help you gain valuable insight about the procedure.3 After your mastectomy, expect to remain in the hospital for one or two nights before being discharged. At discharge, your health care team will provide you and your caregiver with written instructions about how to best care for the surgery site and dressing, how to spot signs of infection, and how to bathe properly.1 You might experience some side effects as a result of a mastectomy, including pain and swelling around the surgery site, a build-up of blood or fluid at the surgery site, and numbness in the chest or arm.1 Full recovery will depend on several factors, including the type of mastectomy your surgeon performed and whether or not you also had breast reconstruction done. Many patients can return to normal […]