Thanks in part to last year’s $50 million gift from Brown University Chancellor Samuel M. Mencoff ’78, P’11, P’15 and Ann S. Mencoff P’11, P’15, he’s able to do just that.
The gift, which supports medical research and scholars, helped bring Wafik El-Deiry, MD, PhD, FACP to Brown from Philadelphia’s Fox Chase Cancer Center, where he was deputy director for translational research and co-leader of the Molecular Therapeutics Program.
In the Ocean State, he’ll blaze trails as the inaugural director of the Brown-Lifespan Joint Program in Cancer Biology and as the inaugural Associate Dean for Oncologic Sciences at Brown University. El-Deiry is creating a transdisciplinary, translational cancer research program focused on diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.
Meaningful progress in cancer care can’t happen without generating new ideas, El-Deiry says. The kind that comes from bringing together a variety of specialists—basic scientists, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, surgical oncologists, pathologists, biostatisticians, population researchers—to focus on certain types of cancers in what he calls “translational research disease groups.” Since arriving in January 2019, the specialist in gastrointestinal oncology and his colleagues have already established 10 of these groups, which meet regularly.
But ideas are nothing without follow-through, he says. “If you have a grant from the NIH, you’re working to accomplish goals you thought about two, three, four years ago. If you want to go with your latest, most exciting results and open up new areas, it’s this type of gift that allows that to happen.”
Right on the mark
El-Deiry is no stranger to “exciting results.” During his two decades at leading National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers (prior to Fox Chase, he was chief of hematology/oncology and associate director of the Cancer Institute at Penn State and a tenured professor and program leader at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine), he made numerous important discoveries about how to target cancer cells. Just last year, he co-authored a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showing that the drug larotrectinib helps shrink tumors or prevents their growth in an array of cancers. Nine months later, the FDA granted an accelerated approval for the drug to be used in treating patients.
Cancer cells beware: El-Deiry and his team are coming for you.