September 30, 2003

New Director Named For Moores UCSD Cancer Center

Dennis Carson, M.D.

An internationally respected immunologist and cancer biologist on the UCSD faculty has been named as the new director of the Rebecca and John Moores UCSD Cancer Center. Dennis Carson, M.D., will take the helm of the region’s only federally designated comprehensive cancer center*, effective November 10.

Carson, who specializes in cancer and arthritis, has been a member of the Cancer Center since he joined the UCSD School of Medicine faculty in 1990 as professor of medicine and director of the Stein Institute for Research on Aging (SIRA).

“Dr. Carson was selected from a stellar group of candidates interviewed from institutions across the nation,” said Edward W. Holmes, M.D., UCSD Vice Chancellor for Health Sciences and Dean of the School of Medicine. “He brings to the position a rare combination of skills, talent, experience and accomplishment that will serve the Cancer Center exceedingly well."

Holmes added: “As director of SIRA for the past 13 years, Dr. Carson brings valuable experience in directing a large, multifaceted academic organization. As founder of four biotech and pharmaceutical companies, he knows the importance of building strong relationships with industry to facilitate the evolution of an exciting idea into an effective product. As a distinguished physician-scientist who conducts translational research, he embodies the Center’s mission to bring the benefits of new research discoveries to patients, and he has notable successes in that arena to his credit.”

Kenneth Kaushansky, M.D., professor and chair of the Department of Medicine, and chair of the search committee, said: After thoroughly evaluating more than 40 individuals for this position, it is clear that we have identified a truly outstanding director. Not only is Dr. Carson extremely well qualified, hes very enthusiastic about the opportunity to serve and has a clear vision of an exciting future direction for the Center.

Carson is perhaps best known for his landmark work in developing a new agent called 2-chlorodeoxyadenosine, or 2-CdA, for the treatment of hairy cell leukemia. This drug, now marketed as Leustatin, is the treatment of choice for this disease and has resulted in long term, complete remissions in about 75 percent of patients, often after just a single infusion. It is also effective in other lymphoid cancers, multiple sclerosis and psoriasis.

Dr. Carson is an extraordinary investigator, said Jack Dixon, Ph.D., Dean for Scientific Affairs at UCSD School of Medicine. His laboratory observations and brilliant personal insights have resulted in that rarest of achievements a cure for a life-threatening disease. We dont often say cure in cancer, but Dennis has accomplished that for people suffering from hairy cell leukemia.

He has also discovered a number of cancer-producing gene mutations and has developed therapies for patients with these mutations. For example, Carson and colleagues isolated a defective gene, called cyclin-dependent kinase 4 inhibitor, which is involved in brain cancer, leukemia, lung cancer and melanoma. When it functions normally, the gene suppresses tumors. When defective, usually due to tobacco and UV exposure, the gene leads to cancer. Working with the Cancer Centers Carlos Carrera, M.D., associate professor of medicine, Carson developed a drug treatment that preferentially kills cancer cells with the defective gene. The drug, called Alanosine, is now in Phase II clinical trials.

In a collaborative study with Eyal Raz, M.D., UCSD associate professor of medicine, Carson determined that microinjection of naked DNA, a new gene therapy technique, can induce therapeutic changes throughout the body for at least several weeks. The simple technique may lead to treatments for cancer and chronic immune-system diseases.

Recently, Carson was inducted into the prestigious National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in recognition of his distinguished and continuing achievements in original research. The NAS is a private scientific organization established in 1863 by an act of Congress to advise the federal government on science and technology. He is also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Society for Clinical Investigation, among others.

He has founded four companies: Vical, Inc., a gene therapy company; Dynavax Technologies, a biopharmaceutical company; Triangle Pharmaceuticals, an anti-virus company now called Gilead; and Salmedix, an anti-cancer company.

As new director of the Moores UCSD Cancer Center, Carson said, he will work to continue the growth of the Center with new clinical recruitments and expanded research opportunities.

“It is very satisfying to look back over my years as director of the Stein Institute for Research on Aging, and the progress we've made,” Carson said. “Now I look forward to bringing that experience to bear at the Cancer Center, which has already seen tremendous growth in faculty membership, clinical services, grant funding, national stature, and now, with the completion of the Center’s new building at hand, growth in physical space. Still, there is much to be done."

Among his priorities: Develop strong, formalized relationships with the biotechnology and pharmaceutical communities to speed the translation of the university's basic science discoveries into new and improved options for cancer patients; and create a molecular-targeted early-diagnostics program that capitalizes on the emerging field of bioinformatics, which uses powerful computers to process large amounts of complicated data.

Carson earned his medical degree in 1970 at Columbia University, and completed his residency at UCSD. He received post-doctoral training at the Salk Institute, the National Institutes of Health and UCSD. Prior to joining the UCSD faculty, Dr. Carson was affiliated with Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation as division head of immunology. He currently holds an adjunct appointment with The Scripps Research Institute. A prolific researcher, he has published nearly 450 scientific papers, and is an inventor on more than 60 U.S. and international patents.

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*The Moores UCSD Cancer Center is one of just 39 centers in the United States to hold a National Cancer Institute (NCI) designation as a Comprehensive Cancer Center. As such, it ranks among the top centers in the nation conducting basic and clinical cancer research, providing advanced patient care and serving the community through outreach and education programs.

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