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

Research

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.

Bio

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

2002–2015

Related Content

What is Genomic Sequencing, and Who Can Benefit?

There’s a paradigm shift taking place in the world of cancer treatment. Experts are moving away from an organ-focused approach to treatment, like using radiation to treat the specific area affected by cancer. Instead, they’re looking at genomic sequencing.  Genomics is the branch of molecular biology concerned with the structure, function, evolution, and mapping of an individual’s genes. Regarding cancer, genomics allows experts to examine DNA to determine an individual’s risk of cancer through genomic sequencing. This means that oncologists can provide more individualized treatment options for patients using precision medicine.  How can cancer risk be determined through genomic sequencing? Parents pass along many traits to their children, such as hair and eye color. Unfortunately, the risk of developing certain types of cancer can also pass along. By examining DNA, experts can identify certain changes in a person’s DNA known for increasing their risk of developing various types of cancer. However, not all cancers pass genetically. In fact, only five to ten percent of all cancers are believed to have an inherited gene mutation. It is important to note that no test can provide exact answers about a person’s inherited cancer risk. Genetic testing can tell whether a specific genetic mutation exists in the DNA. However, it cannot tell whether an individual will develop the disease associated with that mutation later in life or not. What is the benefit of genomic sequencing? Genomic sequencing cannot prevent a cancer diagnosis but can help identify cancer-related DNA mutations. This means an individual can implement precautionary measures. These measures could include making healthy lifestyle changes, such as exercising regularly, ceasing smoking, or reducing alcohol consumption. Depending on the type of mutation, medications may be available to reduce one’s risk of developing cancer. Similarly, genomic sequencing may highlight the option of surgery to remove an organ or gland to prevent cancer from forming or promote undergoing more health screenings regularly.  Who should utilize genomic sequencing? Experts typically only recommend genetic sequencing for patients whose families have a history of certain cancers or patterns of cancer. Doctors may order genetic testing for people that have: Multiple first-degree relatives with cancer diagnoses; Numerous relatives who have been diagnosed with the same cancer on one side of the family; A family history of cancers linked to a single gene mutation, such as breast cancer, ovarian cancer, or pancreatic cancer; Family member(s) who has been diagnosed with more than one type of cancer; Family member(s) who has been diagnosed with cancer at a younger age than typically seen for that cancer, such as colon cancer; Close relatives who have been diagnosed with cancers linked to rare hereditary cancer syndromes, such as Hereditary Breast & Ovarian Cancer Syndrome (HBOC), Cowden Syndrome, or Lynch Syndrome; or Family member(s) who has been diagnosed with rare cancer, such as breast cancer in a male. Can we expect more research in genomic sequencing?  National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR) is committed to advancing genomic research and its potential to be the future of developing treatment plans for cancer patients. As such, NFCR funds a dozen world-renowned researchers paving the way in genomic research. […]

NFCR In the News: Addressing Deadly Brain Cancer, GBM

Detecting Skin Cancer with Artificial Intelligence and Other Game-Changing Technologies in Cancer

Cases of skin cancer are skyrocketing. In the past three decades, more people have been diagnosed with some form of skin cancer than all other cancers combined. Because of this, researchers worldwide have been fascinated with figuring out how to better detect and treat skin cancer. The fascination has launched some of the world’s brightest scientists into innovation overdrive. The result? Artificial Intelligence to detect skin cancer.  Artificial Intelligence and Cancer Artificial Intelligence (AI) involves teaching technology to do tasks previously done by humans. It can be an Alexa device telling a joke, Google Home turning the lights on or off, or something more complex like analyzing medical data. Typically, information like X-Rays or CT scans would be read, reviewed, and analyzed by medical teams to identify abnormalities. Today, AI is used to quickly translate an image into data, compare that data against a more extensive set of normal and abnormal images, and produce a quantitative assessment of potential abnormalities. This method not only reduces the chance of human error but speeds up the process tenfold. Fewer errors and quicker diagnoses mean a far better chance of treating cancer in an early stage.  Innovative Cancer Technologies While the use of AI feels exceptionally futuristic, innovative technology has been emerging from the cancer field for years. In 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a bright pink liquid known as 5-ALA for brain cancer treatment. This drink, often referred to as ‘pink drink,’ is a surgical intervention drug given to brain cancer patients ahead of their surgeries. The pink drink makes brain tumor cells illuminate a hot pink color under fluorescent light when paired with the right technology.  Previous treatment for brain cancer was resection of the tumor. However, physicians alone were historically insufficient or incompletely identified tumor tissue during surgery, which led to recurrence and the abysmal survival rate of 1-2 years on average. Aided by the brilliant pink hues induced by 5-ALA, doctors can now remove and identify significantly more of the tumor.  In 2020, an NFCR funded team of renowned researchers explored how technology could improve treatment outcomes for patients with T-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Before this study, professionals agreed that a molecule called fenretinide would, in theory, be able to treat non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. However, it was seemingly impossible to deliver this molecule to cancer cells because it is poorly soluble in water. The NFCR-funded research team developed a unique delivery system to solve this issue, thus improving outcomes for lymphoma patients.  Accelerating Promising Cancer Research It is discoveries like these launch medical professionals forward towards finding a cure for cancers. NFCR proudly presents the Salisbury Award Competition, which helps oncology startups accelerate their findings to benefit the cancer community. This program offers a unique opportunity for other promising research deemed high-risk, high-impact ideas, a core value of NFCR’s.  NFCR will host the fourth Salisbury Award Competition later this year, with applications opening in March to academic laboratories advancing promising experimental cancer therapeutic, diagnostic, detection, and vaccine innovations.  Learn more about the Salisbury Award or apply to the program here.   Additional Reads You May Enjoy:  Salisbury Award: Providing […]