‘An incredible journey’: Local doctor named new director of Moores Cancer Center at UCSD Health

La Jolla resident Dr. Joseph Califano III is the new director of Moores Cancer Center at UC San Diego Health.
(UC San Diego Health)

Dr. Joseph Califano III, who specializes in head and neck cancer, has been with UCSD Health since 2015. He replaces Dr. Scott Lippman, who will remain at UCSD and lead a national program.

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Calling La Jolla a “rare ecosystem” of science discovery and health care, La Jolla resident Dr. Joseph Califano III has taken on the role of director at Moores Cancer Center at UC San Diego Health, succeeding Dr. Scott Lippman.

Califano now is the head of the region’s only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center, a status that places Moores among the top 4 percent of about 1,500 cancer centers in the United States and one of only 53 comprehensive cancer centers nationwide.

Califano, a board-certified otolaryngologist who specializes in head and neck surgical oncology, also is director of Moores’ Hanna and Mark Gleiberman Head and Neck Cancer Center and co-leader of the Structural and Functional Genomics Program. He joined UCSD Health in 2015.

“Dr. Califano brings enormous experience and expertise to the job of director,” Dr. Steven Garfin, interim vice chancellor for health sciences at UC San Diego, said in a statement. “His medical credentials are superb. He has a history of achievement. And he is already fully immersed and involved in the institution’s multiple missions and ambitions. He will hit the ground already running.”

Califano said he’s honored to take on his new role and is mindful of its regional importance.

“UC San Diego occupies a very unique position in San Diego County [as] the only academic health system in the county,” which inherently involves responsibility to improve cancer care for the county’s residents, he said.

Califano said he will work to continue Lippman’s “extraordinary legacy” at Moores, furthering the funding and productivity that Lippman improved during his tenure, which began in 2012.

Lippman will remain at UCSD as associate vice chancellor for cancer research and lead a national program called the Pre-cancer Genome Atlas.

“[A challenge is] to take all this wonderful science and discovery that exists at UC San Diego and in La Jolla in particular and move that into the clinic.”

— Dr. Joseph Califano III

Lippman “really has built up the solid-tumor service quite significantly,” Califano said, in addition to fostering strong collaboration among scientists and clinical providers and expanding the center’s clinical trials portfolio.

“With that kind of platform,” Califano said, “the task for us as a team moving forward is to build on that success.”

The center will focus on developing immunotherapy, use of computational biology and using cells as therapeutic agents, he added.

Moores also will work “to build up our population science effort,” using community outreach to “make sure we bring all these wonderful discoveries … to all parts of the county,” Califano said.

Lippman said Califano will be “a pivotal leader” for the center who will further its “extraordinary rate and rise of achievement.”

Ex-Moores Cancer Center director Dr. Scott Lippman will remain at UCSD as associate vice chancellor for cancer research.
Former Moores Cancer Center director Dr. Scott Lippman will remain at UC San Diego as associate vice chancellor for cancer research and lead a national program called the Pre-cancer Genome Atlas.
(File)

“The quality of collaborative biomedical research in the cancer space, within academia combined with the locally thriving biotech industry, is remarkable,” Lippman said.

With his own new appointment, Lippman will be “interfacing more directly with the vibrant San Diego life sciences community to accelerate delivery of academic discoveries from the pages of journals and into the hands of physicians,” he said.

Califano said his challenges as Moores director really will be “opportunities in disguise.” One of the challenges is the “relentless pressure of third-party payers to sometimes limit or direct what we can provide to patients,” he said.

The pressure to reduce health-care costs as therapies become more sophisticated and expensive is an obstacle to the center’s aim to provide “efficient and appropriate” care and help patients navigate the comprehensive system, Califano said.

Another challenge, he said, is “to take all this wonderful science and discovery that exists at UC San Diego and in La Jolla in particular and move that into the clinic.”

“We have wonderful scientists who are just … the best in the world,” he said. “When we pair that with some of our clinicians, who are some of the best in the world, it’s just an extraordinary synergy.”

Califano said “people aren’t hemmed in by tradition and old thinking, [and] that culture is absolutely extraordinary and priceless.”

Moores Cancer Center’s partnerships with San Diego State University, the La Jolla Institute for Immunology and other research organizations lead to “synergies [that] don’t exist in other environments,” he said.

“We’re really just at the start of an incredible journey.” ◆


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