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Research Programs

Solid Tumor Therapeutics



Ezra Cohen, MD

Ezra Cohen, MD

Professor of Medicine
Associate Director, Translational Science
Chief of Division of Hematology-Oncology
Moores Cancer Center

Phone: 858-822-5800
Research Summary

Judy Varner, PhD

Judith Varner, PhD

Professor, Pathology and Medicine
Director, Faculty Mentoring for the Department of Pathology

Phone: 858-822-2703
Research Summary


About the Program


The development of safe and effective therapeutic and diagnostic agents and the strategies to guide their use is essential to improving the care of cancer patients in our catchment area and beyond. The role of the Moores Cancer Center Solid Tumor Therapeutics Program (STT) is to use the enormously powerful new cellular, molecular and imaging tools now available to drive the development of treatment strategies that exploit unique tumor cell vulnerabilities. To accomplish this, STT brings together faculty who are experts in each stage of the development process in a collaborative endeavor to leverage new tools and technologies in pursuit of the development of novel therapeutics and to advance the diagnostic and biomarker tools needed to precisely direct their use.

The STT Program has 59 members across 16 departments with a wide range of cancer-relevant scientific disciplines and interests. STT has recruited an outstanding group of translational investigators who develop new therapeutics and technologies and clinician scientists who have the insight and experience to shape these into treatment strategies and introduce them into clinical trials. Accordingly, STT is composed of members whose expertise spans many disciplines including medicinal chemists, immunologists, stem cell biologists, radiation biologists, bioengineers and clinical investigators specializing in the design and execution of clinical trials in the disciplines of medical, surgical, gynecologic, pediatric, neuro- and radiation oncology, and cancer imaging. Research by STT members directly supports the MCC mission through bridging the laboratory to the clinic, translating new discoveries into clinical strategies, and vice versa. A significant number of STT members are physician-scientists who run NCI-funded laboratories as well as trials, with a particular focus on investigator-initiated trials (IITs). This naturally fosters extensive inter-programmatic collaborations, and interactions that cut across classical disciplines. Research by STT members has consistently served as the basis for translational and subsequent practice-changing trials. STT members have a proven track record of high-impact contributions, and during the project period, a significant upward trajectory of productivity as indicated by high-impact collaborative publications and translation of MCC science to IITs. The translational and clinical research efforts of STT members have direct relevance to the cancers with the highest rates of prevalence and mortality in MCC’s catchment area.

Program Goals

The overall goal of STT is to develop novel therapeutics and the biomarkers needed to individualize their use.

The specific aims of the STT program are as follows:

  1. Identify tumor vulnerabilities, mechanisms and targetable alterations. Use preclinical studies to determine the fundamental basis of neoplastic drivers and actionable defects.
  2. Develop new classes of therapeutics and delivery systems. Utilize nascent technologies to create novel classes of therapeutics (e.g., immunotherapy), imaging and tumor delivery.
  3. Develop novel technologies to detect tumors and define tumor geography, microenvironment and exploitable metabolic and signaling defects. Use emerging technologies to translate MCC’s cutting edge science to high-impact IITs.
  4. Establish the clinical benefit of novel therapeutics and genome-driven treatment strategies. Design and implement high impact clinical studies and novel IITs to explore the safety and efficacy of drugs designed to exploit tumor vulnerabilities and biomarkers to optimize their use.


The following list includes events developed by and of interest to the Solid Tumor Therapeutics program and its members. Please look for the Upcoming STT Events list on the right edge of this page; this list is updated automatically and may be added to your Outlook or Google calendars. 

STT Program Events

Seminars, lectures, and other programmatic meetings led by the STT Program. Expand the panels for schedules, locations, webinar links, and more information.

Multi-program Events

Recurring lecture series, seminars, and training activities of interest to the Solid Tumor Therapeutics (STT) Program community:

Annual Events

Annual symposia, conferences, and retreats of interest to the STT community:



Please contact us if you are interested in developing a collaboration or in joining the Solid Tumor Therapeutics (STT) Research Program. To see recent cross-program collaboration highlights with the STT group, please click here.

Click on the link below to see a list of all current STT members.

For a full list of all program membership affiliations, please click here.

Upcoming STT Events

A list of upcoming events of interest to the Solid Tumor Therapeutics (STT) community. Click here if you have a program to add to the calendar.

Click on an event headline to add it to your calendar.

STT Scientific Highlights

Recent Scientific Highlights from Solid Tumor Therapeutics Research Program members. Please contact us if you have a highlight to share.

Zika Virus Targets Glioblastoma Stem Cells through a SOX2-Integrin αvβ5 Axis

Zhe Zhu, Pinar Mesci, Jean A. Bernatchez, Ryan C. Gimple, Xiuxing Wang, Simon T. Schafer, Hiromi I. Wettersten, Sungjun Beck, Alex E. Clark, Qiulian Wu, Briana C. Prager, Leo J.Y. Kim, Rekha Dhanwani, Sonia Sharma, Alexandra Garancher, Sara M. Weis, Stephen C. Mack, Priscilla D. Negraes, Cleber A. Trujillo, Luiz O. Penalva, Jing Feng, Zhou Lan, Rong Zhang, Alex W. Wessel, Sanjay Dhawan, Michael S. Diamond, Clark C. Chen, Robert J. Wechsler-Reya, Fred H. Gage, Hongzhen Hu, Jair L. Siqueira-Neto, Alysson R. Muotri, David A. ChereshSTT

Cell. 2020 Feb 6;26(2):187-204.e10. doi: 10.1016/j.stem.2019.11.016.
Read the paper

Molecular profiling of cancer patients enables personalized combination therapy: the I-PREDICT study

Jason K. Sicklick STTShumei Kato STT, Ryosuke Okamura, Maria Schwaederle, Michael E. Hahn, Casey B. Williams, Pradip De, Amy Krie, David E. Piccioni, Vincent A. Miller, Jeffrey S. Ross, Adam Benson, Jennifer Webster, Philip J. Stephens, J. Jack Lee, Paul T. Fanta, Scott M. Lippman CCP, Brian Leyland-Jones & Razelle KurzrockSTT

Nature Medicine. Volume 25, pages744–750(2019)
Read the paper

Oncogene Amplification in Growth Factor Signaling Pathways Renders Cancers Dependent on Membrane Lipid Remodeling

Junfeng Bi, Taka-Aki Ichu, Ciro Zanca, Huijun Yang, Wei Zhang, Yuchao Gu, Sudhir Chowdhry, Alex Reed, Shiro Ikegami, Kristen M Turner, Wenjing Zhang, Genaro R Villa, Sihan Wu, Oswald Quehenberger, William H Yong, Harley I Kornblum, Jeremy N RichSTT, Timothy F Cloughesy, Webster K Cavenee, Frank B FurnariCBS, Benjamin F Cravatt 2,Paul S MischelSTT

Science Direct. Volume 30, Issue 3, 3 September 2019, Pages 525-538.e8
Read the paper

Research Programs at Moores Cancer Center

Our scientific achievements are made possible through collaborations with colleagues across all other research programs at Moores Cancer Center. To learn more about these programs follow the links below:

STT Leadership & Research Summary

Ezra Cohen, MD

Dr. Ezra Cohen is co-Director of the San Diego Center for Precision Immunotherapy and an internationally renowned translational researcher. Dr. Cohen is Associate Director for Translational Science and leader of the Solid Tumor Therapeutics research program at Moores Cancer Center. He brings his expertise and preeminent reputation in head and neck cancer research and patient care to solid tumor therapeutics. Among other roles, he is chair of the Protocol Review and Monitoring Committee (PRMC) and serves as a member of the Cancer Council, and the Cancer Center’s Executive Committee. Prior to joining UCSD, Dr. Cohen was at University of Chicago where he was Director of the Hematology/Oncology Fellowship; Associate Director for Training and Education for the University of Chicago Comprehensive Cancer Center; and Chair of the NCI Head and Neck Cancer Steering Committee. Dr. Cohen recently served as editor-in-chief of Oral Oncology, the highest impact specialty journal in head and neck cancer, and has recently chaired two Multidisciplinary Head and Neck Cancer Symposia—the largest international meeting of its kind—sponsored by the American Society for Radiation Oncology, the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the American Head and Neck Society. He has been the principal investigator on multiple studies of novel agents in head and neck cancer and other solid tumors in all phases of development including chemoprevention, phase I, II, and III trials. Dr. Cohen has authored more than 170 papers and has presented his research at national and international meetings. In addition, he has served as a grant reviewer for the NIH, American Association for Cancer Research, American Society of Clinical Oncology, and the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research.

Academic Profile

judith varner, PhD

Dr. Judith Varner, is Professor in the Departments of Pathology and Medicine at the University of California, San Diego, Director of Faculty Mentoring for the Department of Pathology and co-Leader of the Solid Tumor Therapeutics program in the Moores UCSD Cancer Center. She joined the Department of Medicine in 1997 and the Department of Pathology in 2012. Dr. Varner received her undergraduate degree in Chemistry from Duke University, where she was an A.B. Duke and National Merit Scholar, and received her Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of Basel, Switzerland, where she was a Fulbright Fellow. Prior to coming to UCSD, she was a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she studied integrin signaling in cancer. As a member of Moores Cancer Center, her research has focused on mechanisms regulating the tumor microenvironment and inflammation in cancer. Her work, which appears in journals that include Cancer Cell, Nature, Nature Communications and Cancer Discovery, has identified novel mechanisms by which macrophages promote tumor growth and has developed new approaches to treat cancer patients by targeting tumor macrophage signal transduction, with a focus on inhibition of PI3Kinase gamma. The novel therapeutic eganelisib (IPI-549) was developed by Infinity Pharmaceuticals in conjunction with the Varner lab and is currently in testing in five Phase II clinical trials as an immune/oncology agent for cancer therapy. Dr. Varner is a recipient of the V Foundation Award for Translational Research, the AACR-Landon Foundation Innovator Award for International Collaboration and the Lustgarten Foundation Innovator Award for Pancreatic Cancer Research for her work on immune oncology therapeutics. Dr. Varner is active in the American Association for Cancer Research and the Society for the Immunotherapy of Cancer. 

Academic Profile