Scientific Advisory Board

Owen N. Witte, M.D.


Dr. Witte received his undergraduate degree from Cornell and his MD from Stanford University. He completed postdoctoral research at MIT, then joined the faculty at UCLA. Dr. Witte is serving at UCLA where he was appointed a University Professor by the University of California Board of Regents, an honor reserved for scholars of the highest international distinction. Dr. Witte is also a professor of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics, the UCLA David Saxon Presidential Chair in Developmental Immunology. He is the Director of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCLA. Dr. Witte has made significant contributions to the understanding of human leukemias, immune disorders, and epithelial cancer stem cells. His work includes the discovery of tyrosine kinase activity for the ABL gene and the demonstration of the BCR-ABL oncoproteins in human leukemias. This has had practical impact in leading to the development of kinase-targeted therapy as an effective treatment for these leukemias and other cancers. His work also led to the co-discovery of Bruton’s tyrosine kinase (“BTK”), which is required for normal B-lymphocyte development and, when mutated, leads to X-linked agammaglobulinemia, a form of immune deficiency. New inhibitors for BTK are entering clinical practice for the treatment of certain lymphomas and leukemias. Recent work has concentrated on defining the stem cells for epithelial cancers of the prostate and other organ sites to help define new types of therapy for these diseases. His work utilizes advanced whole body imaging techniques, such as positron emission tomography to monitor cancer growth and cellular immune functions. Dr. Witte is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the National Academy of Medicine. Recognition for his research includes the Milken Foundation Award in Basic Cancer Research, the Rosenthal Award of the American Association for Cancer Research, the Dameshek Prize of the American Society of Hematology, the Alpert Foundation Prize, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s de Villiers International Achievement Award, the UCLA Faculty Research Lecture, the Nakahara Memorial Lecture Prize, and the AACR G.H.A. Clowes Memorial Award. Dr. Witte currently serves on several editorial and advisory boards, and he previously served on the Board of Directors for the American Association for Cancer Research. He was recently appointed by President Obama to the President’s Cancer Panel.

James P. Allison, Ph.D.

Dr. Allison earned his B.S. and Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin. After a postdoctoral fellowship at Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation, he joined the faculty of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center Science Park in Smithville, Texas in 1974 as Assistant Biochemist. He moved to the University of California, Berkeley in 1982 as Professor of Immunology. At Berkeley, he served as Director of the Cancer Research Laboratory, Head of the Division of Immunology in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, and Co-chair of the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology. In 2004, Dr. Allison moved to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Institute in New York City, as Professor of Immunology, Chair of Immunology and Director of the Ludwig Center for Cancer Immunotherapy. In 2012, he moved to the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, where he is Professor of Immunology, Chair of the Department of Immunology, and Executive Director of the Immunotherapy Platform. Dr. Allison’s fundamental discoveries include the definition of the structure of the T cell antigen receptor, demonstration that the T cell molecule CD28 provides costimulatory signals necessary for full T cells activation, and identification of the inhibitory checkpoint molecule CTLA-4, which inhibits activated T cells. He proposed that immune checkpoint blockade might be a powerful strategy for therapy of many cancer types, and conducted preclinical experiments showing its potential. He was involved in the development of ipilimumab, which was approved by the FDA for treatment of metastatic melanoma in 2011. His development of immune checkpoint blockade transformed cancer therapy and has been responsible for saving the lives of thousands of cancer patients. Dr. Allison is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine. In 1997, he was appointed as an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, a position that he held until his move to MD Anderson. He has received numerous national and international awards, including the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Association of Immunologists, the Lloyd J. Old Award from the American Association for Cancer Research, the Novartis Award for Clinical Immunology, and the Economist Magazine Innovation Prize for Biomedicine, the Breakthrough Prize in Bioscience, the Szent-Gyorgyi Prize for Progress in Cancer Research, the first Tang Prize for Biopharaceutical Science, Canada Gairdner International Award, the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize, the Giants of Cancer Care Award in Scientific Advances, the Harvey Prize in Human Health, the AACR/Pezcoller International Award for Cancer Research, and the ASCO Science of Oncology Award.

James Economou, M.D., Ph.D.

Dr. Economou serves as the Beaumont Professor of Surgery, Microbiology, Immunology and Molecular Genetics, and Molecular and Medical Pharmacology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He received all his education at Johns Hopkins and his general surgical training at the University of California, San Francisco. He joined the UCLA faculty in 1986, and went on to found and direct the UCLA Human Gene Medicine Program, building one of the largest and most well-respected gene therapy programs in the world. He has more than 25 years of experience in designing complex cell and gene therapy based clinical trials for metastatic cancer.

Zelig Eshhar, Ph.D.

Dr. Eshhar is Chairman of Immunology Research at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center and Professor Emeritus at the Weizmann Institute in Israel. Dr. Eshhar pioneered the CAR approach (or T-Body as he termed it) to redirect T cells to recognize, engage and kill a patient’s tumor cells by engineering them with a construct that combines the anti-target specificity of an antibody with T cell activation domains. Dr. Eshhar’s research led to the design of leading CAR constructs and to establishment of the optimal therapeutic strategies that paved the way for clinical trials at leading centers. These studies have demonstrated the ability of CAR-engineered T cells to provide significant and durable clinical benefit to patients with advanced hematological and solid tumors. Dr. Eshhar was also instrumental in introducing monoclonal antibody technology to Israeli academic institutions and to therapeutic and diagnostic biomedical research. His achievements have been recognized by several international awards, most recently the CAR Pioneering award by the ATTACK European Consortium, the Outstanding Achievement Award by the European Society of Gene and Cell Therapy, the Teva Award for Excellence, and the prestigious Massry Prize and 2015 Israel Prize in Life Sciences.

Donald B. Kohn, M.D.

Donald B. Kohn, M.D. is a Professor in the Departments of Microbiology, Immunology & Molecular Genetics (MIMG) and Pediatric (Hematology/Oncology) at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), is a member of the Eli & Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine & Stem Cell Research and the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, and serves as the Director of the Human Gene and Cell Therapy Program in the UCLA School of Medicine. He is a board-certified pediatrician with more than 25 years of experience in clinical bone marrow transplantation. Dr. Kohn’s principal area of research is the development and application of methods for gene therapy of blood cell diseases, such as Severe Combined Immune Deficiency (“bubble baby disease”) and Sickle Cell Disease using autologous bone marrow stem cells. Dr. Kohn has directed investigator-initiated clinical trials of gene therapy for ADA-deficient SCID, pediatric HIV/AIDS, Sickle Cell Disease and X-linked Chronic Granulomatous Disease and has been the sponsor of six investigator-initiated INDs for these studies. Dr. Kohn is a past President of the American Society of Gene and Cell Therapy and of the Clinical Immunology Society, and he has served on advisory boards to the National Gene Vector Laboratory and National Gene Vector Biorepository. He was a member and Chair of the NIH Office of Biotechnology Activities Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee from 2010-2015.

Ronald Levy, M.D.

Dr. Levy is the Robert K. Summy and Helen K. Summy Professor of Medicine and Director of the Lymphoma Program at Stanford University School of Medicine. He is also the Associate Director of Translational Science for the Stanford Cancer Institute. For more than 25 years, his research has focused on monoclonal antibodies and the study of malignant lymphoma, currently using the tools of immunology and molecular biology to develop a better understanding of the initiation and progression of the malignant process. He was the first to successfully treat cancer with a monoclonal antibody, and went on to help develop rituximab (Rituxan®) for the treatment of patients’ lymphomas. His research concentrates on using lymphocyte receptors as targets for new therapies for lymphoma, and he is currently conducting clinical trials of lymphoma vaccines. Dr. Levy has published over 300 articles in the fields of oncology and immunology. In 1982, Dr. Levy shared the first Armand Hammer Award for Cancer Research, and was later awarded the Ciba-Geigy/Drew Award in Biomedical Research, the American Society of Clinical Oncology Karnofsky Award, the General Motors Charles Kettering Prize, the Key to the Cure Award by the Cure for Lymphoma Foundation, the Medal of Honor by the American Cancer Society, the Evelyn Hoffman Memorial Award by the Lymphoma Research Foundation of America, the 2004 Damashek Prize from the American Society of Hematology and, in 2009, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences and was awarded the King Faisal International Prize in Medicine.

Antoni Ribas, M.D., Ph.D.

Antoni Ribas, M.D., Ph.D. is Professor of Medicine, Professor of Surgery, and Professor of Molecular and Medical Pharmacology at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), Director of the Tumor Immunology Program at the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center (JCCC) and the Chair of the Melanoma Committee at SWOG. Trained at the University of Barcelona, with postdoctoral research and clinical fellowships at UCLA. He is a member of the American Society of Clinical Investigation (ASCI). Dr Ribas is a physician-scientist who conducts laboratory and clinical research in malignant melanoma, focusing on gene engineered adoptive cell transfer (ACT) therapies, anti-CTLA4 antibodies, anti-PD-1 antibodies, BRAF and MEK inhibitors and nanoparticle-siRNA, which have been published in major journals such as The New England Journal of Medicine, Nature, Nature Medicine and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. His NIH, State of California and private foundation-supported research laboratory develops models of disease to test new therapeutic options and studies mechanism of action of treatments in patients. He has been instrumental in the clinical development of several new agents approved by the FDA, including pembrolizumab (Keytruda), vemurafenib (Zelboraf), dabrafenib (Tafinlar) and trametinib (Mekinist).

Padmanee Sharma, M.D., Ph.D.

Padmanee Sharma is Associate Professor of Genitourinary Medical Oncology and Immunology and Scientific Director of the Immunotherapy Platform at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. A trained oncologist and immunologist, her research work is focused on investigating mechanisms and pathways within the immune system that are responsible for tumor rejection and clinical benefit. She has received the ASCO Young Investigator Award, the MD Anderson Physician Scientist Award and ASCO Career Development Award, and her research enabled her to compete successfully for the Doris Duke Clinical Scientist Development Award and the American Cancer Society Mentored Research Scholar Grant. She is the principal investigator of several immunotherapy clinical trials that illuminate immune responses and pathways critical for eliciting anti-tumor responses in cancer patients. She received her M.D. and Ph.D. degrees at the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine.

Inder M. Verma, Ph.D.

Dr. Verma is Irwin and Joan Jacobs Chair of Exemplary Life Science and American Cancer Society Professor of Molecular Biology in the Laboratory of Genetics at The Salk Institute, La Jolla, California. Dr. Verma is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, American Philosophical Society, and foreign associate of Indian National Academy of Sciences. Dr. Verma is one of the world’s leading authorities on the development and application of viral vectors for gene transfer and gene therapy. His laboratory pioneered the development of retroviral and lentiviral vectors and their application for use in clinical trials, as well as for genome modulation, elucidation of tumorgenesis, and stem cell biology. Derivations of these vectors are currently being used in multiple clinical trials for different disease indications. Recognition for his work includes the American Society for Gene Therapy Outstanding Achievement Award, the Pasarow Award in Cancer Research, the Columbia University Spector Prize and the Vilcek Foundation Prize. He is currently the editor-in-chief of The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.