June 2020

Dear Hillman Community,

I want to begin by briefly expressing my thoughts on the events of the past two weeks that have once again brought to the forefront of our collective conscience the painful truth that Black Americans continue to face systemic racial injustices in every facet of their lives. I share my deep personal support for the sentiments of equality and justice shared by Chancellor Pat Gallagher, Mr. Nick Beckwith, Chairman of UPMC’s Board of Directors, and Senior Vice Chancellor Dr. Anantha Shekhar. UPMC Hillman is deeply connected to our community – we care for patients diagnosed with malignant diseases, which our scientific endeavors aim to cure. We recognize that disparities continue to exist in cancer diagnosis, in cancer treatment and in cancer research. We are working every day to eliminate these disparities. We are far from where we want to be, but I want to reiterate our commitment to equality and fairness in all that we do. As always, I am here to listen to your thoughts and ideas on how we can do better.

I’d like to extend a warm welcome to Anantha Shekhar, MD, PhD, the new Senior Vice Chancellor for Health Sciences and John and Gertrude Petersen Dean of the School of Medicine, who stepped into his role in June. Anantha is an accomplished scientist, academic leader, and entrepreneur, and I look forward to working with him to further elevate our standing as a globally recognized institution for cancer research and care. I would also like to thank Art Levine, MD, for his long-standing support of Hillman and cancer research.

As you are aware, Pittsburgh and Allegheny county moved to the Green Phase in our state’s reopening plan and we fully reopened on June 5 with accommodations for distancing and other safety measures. As we work to ramp up our research activities over the next few weeks, I would like to recognize the efforts of our administrative team who have worked extremely hard to ensure that we do so in a safe and efficient manner and in compliance with Pitt and UPMC regulations.

This year, in place of our in-person scientific retreat we are holding the Hillman Director’s Annual Retreat Address & Research Awards virtually. I will be presenting the annual State of the Center address where I will share updates on our progress, including the outcome of our NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center re-designation site visit, and our shared vision for the future. We will also honor outstanding cancer research among our colleagues through our research awards program. I hope you join me in this important annual tradition.

We were well represented at the virtual ASCO20 meeting in May, with several presentations and posters by Hillman scientists and physicians. Our researchers have been doing admirable work during this time, even as we are adapting to new ways of work. I am pleased to highlight some of our faculty recognitions and achievements in the past month.

  • Leisha Emens, MD, PhD, co-leader of the Cancer Immunology and Immunotherapy Program, has been elected vice president for the Society for Immunotherapy in Cancer, adding to our continued leadership in the field of cancer immunotherapy. Leisha will begin her two-year term as SITC vice president beginning in January 2021, before ascending to the role of SITC president in January 2023.
  • Steffi Oesterreich, PhD, co-leader of the Cancer Biology Program, was selected to the 2020-2021 class of the Hedwig van Ameringen Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine® (ELAM) program for Women at Drexel University College of Medicine. An extremely prestigious competitive fellowship, ELAM® is the only longitudinal program in North America dedicated to preparing women for senior leadership roles in schools of medicine, dentistry, public health and pharmacy.
  • Ben Van Houten, PhD, co-leader of the Genome Stability Program, received an R35 Outstanding Investigator Award in May from the NIEHS to study how DNA repair proteins work to protect the human genome from environmentally induced DNA damage. Ben joins program co-leader Patty Opresko, PhD, who received a similar competitive grant in 2019.

As we adapt to the new normal, I thank you for your ongoing work, dedication, and commitment to not only Hillman, but also to the broader endeavor of cancer research and a better tomorrow.



Robert L. Ferris, MD, PhD