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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The World’s First Oncolytic Virus Drug was Launched to Treat Malignant Brain Tumor GBM

Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is the most aggressive malignant brain tumor in adults, with a median survival of only about ten months. Unlike low-grade gliomas (grades I and II), which grow slowly, high-grade gliomas (grades III and IV) grow much faster and can spread to other parts of the brain, resulting in a patient’s death. GBM is the highest grade brain tumor (grade IV) with a very poor prognosis. The standard treatment for GBM includes surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. However, these limited treatment approaches cannot control the tumor progress, and the rate of brain tumor recurrence is high, resulting in low overall survival (OS) in most patients.   Oncolytic Virus Therapy  Oncolytic virus therapy represents a new promising cancer immunotherapy approach that utilizes genetically modified viruses to infect and kill cancer cells. The viruses are modified to selectively infect and lyse cancer cells through genetic engineering processes while leaving normal cells unharmed. The genetic modification of the viruses also grants them the ability to produce immune-boosting molecules or initiate anti-cancer immunity through multiple mechanisms of the patient’s own immune system.  The First Oncolytic Virus Therapy for GBM  Recently, the world’s first oncolytic virus-based immunotherapy (Teserpaturev) was approved in Japan. Teserpaturev offers a new option for treating GBM and brings new hope to thousands of patients suffering from this malignant brain tumor.  Teserpaturev is a genetically engineered herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). The uniqueness of this new oncolytic virus-based drug is that it not only has strong killing power to brain tumor cells that the virus entered into, but it is also able to kill the tumor cells that have spread to other parts of the brain. This process happens by inducing systemic antitumor immunity of a patient’s own immune system.  In June 2021, Teserpaturev received a conditional and time-limited marketing approval in Japan to treat malignant glioma based on a Japanese phase 2 clinical trial in patients with GBM. The clinical trial results showed that 92% of patients who received Teserpaturev immunotherapy treatment were still alive after one year. This percent is considerably higher than the typical 15% one-year survival rate in this group of patients receiving standard late-stage brain tumor treatments.  Bottom Line Because Teserpaturev is currently under conditional and time-limited marketing approval in Japan, this novel immunotherapy for GBM is only available at specified hospitals in Japan. We hope international multi-center clinical trials on this innovative drug can take place in the near future. Hopefully, the novel therapy can be made available to GBM patients around the world.  Stay up-to-date with the latest information on new drug development. Receive our monthly e-newsletter and blogs featuring stories of inspiration, support resources, cancer prevention tips, and more; sign up here.  Additional Reads You May Also Enjoy: Treating Brain Cancer: What You Need to Know New Brain Scan Technology Can Improve Tumor Removal GBM AGILE – Changing the Way We Fight Brain Cancer References Daiichi Sankyo introduces Delytact in Japan to treat malignant glioma. com, November 2, 2021. First launch for Daiichi Sankyo’s oncolytic virus Delytact in Japan. Pharmaphorum, November 1, 2021.

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