Cancer Immunotherapy Expert Appointed Director of UPMC Hillman Cancer Center

Robert L. Ferris, a leading expert in immunotherapy and specialist in head and neck cancer, has been named director of UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, one of the country’s largest cancer treatment networks.

Starting July 1, Ferris, a 15-year veteran of the recently renamed UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, will have overall responsibility for all aspects of cancer research and education at the only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center in the region. His appointment follows a nationwide search after the departure of Nancy Davidson.

“Dr. Ferris is a nationally known leader in cancer immunology and will expertly serve UPMC, the University of Pittsburgh and the Western Pennsylvania community as we continue to advance the future of cancer care,” said Steven Shapiro, chief medical and scientific officer of UPMC.

Ferris serves as chief of the UPMC Division of Head and Neck Oncologic Surgery with appointments in the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine departments of otolaryngology and immunology. He also serves as co-leader of the Cancer Immunology Program and most recently was appointed associate director for translational research and co-leader of the Tumor Microenvironment Center.

The development and implementation of immunotherapy to treat head and neck tumors have been the primary research focus of the Ferris laboratory. The goal of this research is to boost the body's immune response against cancer. More recently, his work has focused on how immune cells in the tumor microenvironment influence cancer progression and can be harnessed to advance treatment.

“Under Dr. Ferris’s leadership, we expect that UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh will continue to lead the way locally, nationally and internationally in the development of new therapies to treat and prevent the numerous forms of cancer,” said Arthur S. Levine, senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and John and Gertrude Petersen Dean of Pitt’s School of Medicine, a partner in the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center.

Nationally, Ferris is cochair of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Head and Neck Steering Committee, at-large director of the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer, senior examiner of the American Board of Otolaryngology and chair of the National Institutes of Health Tumor Microenvironment Study Section. He has authored or co-authored more than 280 peer-reviewed papers and 32 chapters and other invited contributions. He has edited three books, with “Head and Neck Cancer currently in press. 

“I am very excited to take on this new role in an institution that has been a proven leader in cancer research and treatment, with more than 400 clinical trials offering hope and cutting-edge therapies to our patients in the communities where they live,” said Ferris.

Ferris was trained at Johns Hopkins Medical School where he received his medical degree and PhD in immunology and completed his residency in otolaryngology/head and neck surgery.