Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research

San Diego, California
Director of Strategic Alliances in Central Nervous System Cancers, Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research
Distinguished Professor, University of California, San Diego
Chairman, NFCR Scientific Advisory Board


Dr. Web Cavenee has fundamentally changed the way scientists now think about the onset of cancer and its progression. He provided the first indisputable evidence of the existence of tumor suppressor genes.

Dr. Cavenee’s original research sought to define the genetic lesions in retinoblastoma and led to evidence that there’s tumor suppression in humans. Today, mutations of tumor suppressor genes have been identified in more than half of all tumors, including those of muscle, melanocytes, kidney, prostate and breast. Gene therapies are being tested that would reverse gene mutations (or their effects) in cancer cells. These therapies hold tremendous promise for patients with brain tumors and many other cancers.

Dr. Cavenee and his team have developed a high-throughput CHIP-NextGen sequencing method to identify miRNAs that drive the development of aveolar rhabdomyosarcoma, a type of soft-tissue sarcoma that has a poor prognosis and is most common in young adults and teenagers.

In recent years, Dr. Cavenee’s research efforts, with support from NFCR, have concentrated on glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), the most aggressive and deadliest brain tumor. His research team uncovered an abnormal version of the Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor (EGFR) – named EGFRviii – that is only present in the most rapidly-progressing tumors. With this knowledge, Dr. Cavenee’s team is now developing monoclonal antibodies, small molecules and nucleic acid-based therapeutics – known as EGFRvIII inhibitors – to target this tumor-specific molecule.

Additionally, Dr. Cavenee has partnered with another NFCR-funded scientist, Dr. Paul B. Fisher. They have discovered a new pharmacological agent that could – with additional chemistry – lead to a new drug to prevent radiation-induced invasion of GBM cells. The researchers have tested their pharmacological agent in combination with radiation and have seen profound survival benefits in pre-clinical models. Click here to read the full report on the pharmacological agent by the scientists.


Web Cavenee, Ph.D., received his B.S. in Microbiology from Kansas State University and his Ph.D. from the University of Kansas. He then conducted postdoctoral work at the Jackson Laboratory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Utah, and held professorships at the University of Cincinnati and McGill University.

Dr. Cavenee first joined the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research in 1985 as a member and Montreal branch director. He later moved and founded the San Diego Ludwig branch. Dr. Cavenee is a member of the Strategic Alliances in Central Nervous System (CNS) Cancers and rose to become director in 2015. The same year, he was named Chairman of the NFCR Scientific Advisory Board.

Dr. Cavenee’s research has been funded by various groups throughout the years and his expertise is highly sought after. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine, a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology, a fellow of the International Union Against Cancer and is a former president of the American Association for Cancer Research. Dr. Cavenee is on the editorial boards of several scientific journals and has served on the Board of Scientific Counselors for the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Additionally, Dr. Cavenee was part of the Tissue Bank Consortium in Asia that was founded and operated by NFCR to help drive international material collections, and he sits on the Executive Committee of GBM AGILE, which is a revolutionary global collaboration to test and develop new brain cancer treatments that NFCR has taken a leading role on.

Throughout his career, Dr. Cavenee has published more than 300 publications and has been recognized with more than 80 honors and awards, including the 2007 Szent-Györgyi Prize for Progress in Cancer Research, Rhoads Award, the Charles S. Mott Prize and the 2016 Feldman Founder’s Award for Adult Brain Tumor Research.

Areas of Focus

Cancer Types

Years of NFCR Funding


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Any illness or disease that impacts the brain is highly complex. None more so than brain tumors, which affect over 20,000 Americans each year. While surgeons have become more advanced in the removal of brain tumors, experts continue to face extreme challenges in ensuring all cancerous tissues are removed during surgery. That is, until now.  A recent study found a high-intensity focused ultrasound 2.5 times more effective at identifying cancerous tissue than surgeons alone and significantly better than traditional ultrasound. The newly identified ultrasound cancer treatment technique is referred to as shear wave elastography.  Shear wave elastography measures the stiffness and stretch within the tissue, with vibrations moving faster through stiffer tissue. Brain tumors tend to be stiffer than normal brain tissue, allowing the new method to map suspicious areas of particular stiffness. In the study, researchers compared this high-intensity focused ultrasound to the standard ultrasound cancer treatment and a surgeon’s opinion regarding which tissues to remove.  The study used these three different techniques on a total of 26 patients. All of the techniques were compared with gold-standard MRI scans after the surgery – which while effective, are exceptionally time-consuming and expensive.  While the shear wave elastography ultrasound cancer treatment proved to be the most effective with 94% sensitivity (compared to 73% for the standard ultrasound tumor removal and 36% for the surgeon’s opinion), researchers concluded that the shear wave scans may yield more false positives than surgeons.  Ensuring all of a brain tumor is removed without damaging healthy tissue is a major challenge in brain surgery. This new type of scan can greatly increase a surgeon’s confidence that no cancer tissue is left behind in surgery.  The use of this unique ultrasound in cancer treatment makes a significant stride towards improving the health outlook for brain cancer patients. The National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR) is also providing new hope in the realm of brain cancer through its partnership with Global Coalition for Adaptive Research (GCAR). GCAR is a nonprofit organization comprised of some of the world’s foremost physicians, clinical researchers and investigators united in expediting the discovery and development of cures for patients with rare and deadly diseases. GCAR is the official sponsor of GBM AGILE, an adaptive platform trial for patients with glioblastoma (GBM) – the most common and deadliest of malignant primary brain tumors. The GBM AGILE has been developed with a revolutionary approach to defeating GBM, with the goal of enabling faster and more efficient testing of new agents and combination therapies, better identification of predictive and prognostic biomarkers and delivery of more effective treatments to all glioblastoma patients. GBM AGILE is an innovative approach for treating brain cancer, providing new hope where little existed before. NFCR continues to fund innovative researchers paving the way to finding new screening methods, treatments, and cures for all cancers, including brain cancer. To learn more about the progress that NFCR-funded scientists are making in the way of brain cancer, visit the NFCR Brain Cancer page.  Additional Reads You May Enjoy: “Pink Drink” to Aid Brain Tumor Treatment Treating Brain Cancer: What You Need to Know GBM AGILE – Changing the Way We Fight Brain Cancer Stay connected with us! […]