Dr. Sunil Sharma, a celebrated cancer investigator responsible for helping develop some of the world’s most advanced anti-cancer agents, today joins the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), pursuing drug development and patient clinical trials in concert with TGen’s research alliance with City of Hope in California, and TGen’s clinical partnership with the HonorHealth Research Institute in Scottsdale.
Dr. Sharma most recently was Deputy Director of Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) in Salt Lake City, a National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center. Previously he served as Senior Director of Clinical Research and Director of the Center for Investigational Therapeutics at HCI, where he also held a Jon and Karen Huntsman Presidential Professorship in Cancer Research and taught at the University of Utah School of Medicine. He helped HCI receive a coveted Comprehensive Cancer Center designation from the NCI in 2015.
Starting today, Dr. Sharma is TGen Deputy Director of Clinical Sciences, working closely with Dr. Daniel Von Hoff, TGen Distinguished Professor and Physician-In-Chief. Dr. Sharma will hold the titles of Professor and Head of TGen’s Applied Cancer Research and Drug Discovery Program. He also will be a Professor of Medicine at City of Hope, and serve as Chief of Translational Oncology and Drug Development at the HonorHealth Research Institute. He will be part of the senior leadership for the TGen-City of Hope alliance.
“Dr. Sharma’s entrepreneurial spirit and penchant for far-reaching innovative new ideas makes him a great match for TGen and our proven record of ‘translating’ research findings into demonstrated patient benefit,” said Dr. Jeffrey Trent, TGen President and Research Director. “Dr. Sharma’s ‘end to end’ success in identifying novel therapeutic agents, and then working with or establishing commercial opportunities to move targets to treatments is remarkable.
“Without question, the appointment of Dr. Sunil Sharma represents a significant advance in the capabilities of TGen, City of Hope and HonorHealth to serve cancer patients in Arizona, California, and around the world,” said Dr. Trent.
Dr. Steven T. Rosen, Provost and Chief Scientific Officer for City of Hope, added, “The addition of Dr. Sharma will no doubt accelerate our research discoveries and rapidly translate those laboratory breakthroughs into advanced clinical benefits for the patients we serve.”
HonorHealth CEO Todd LaPorte said, “The joint recruitment of Dr. Sharma with TGen and City of Hope will strengthen and extend our longstanding and fruitful collaboration to accelerate the development of promising new cancer therapies, and patients in our community and beyond will benefit from the combination of cutting-edge science and exceptional personalized care from Drs. Sharma, Von Hoff, and Michael S. Gordon, Medical Director of HonorHealth Clinical Trials, and the rest of the team at the HonorHealth Research Institute.”
Before joining the Huntsman Cancer Institute, Dr. Sharma built a phase I clinical trials program at the Nevada Cancer Institute in Las Vegas, and worked as a physician in the Division of Gastrointestinal Oncology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. He earned his medical degree at the University of Delhi in New Delhi, India.
In addition to his clinical work, he worked for Swiss-based Novartis, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, where he helped developed one of the most widely used anti-lung cancer agents, ceritinib, and recent immunotherapies, pembrolizumab and nivolumab, which help the body’s own immune system attack cancer cells.
Dr. Sharma also helped start two drug development firms — Beta Cat Pharmaceuticals, and Salarius Pharmaceuticals — each initiated under nearly $20 million grants from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. CPRIT is a $3 billion bonding authority, funded in part by tobacco taxes, approved by Texas voters in 2007 to advance groundbreaking cancer research, prevention and services. Both companies are located in Houston on the Johnson & Johnson innovation campus at Texas Medical Center. Anti-cancer agents being developed include: BC2059 for multiple myeloma and colorectal cancer; and SP-2577 for Ewing’s sarcoma, a devastating children’s and young adult bone cancer with no targeted therapies currently available.
Dr. Sharma’s connections to Texas, and to Dr. Von Hoff, run deep. In the late 1990s, Dr. Sharma trained at the University of Texas in San Antonio under Dr. Von Hoff, who at the time was Director of the Institute for Drug Development at the UT Health Science Center.
“I have had the gratifying responsibility of helping train more than 2,200 budding cancer doctors, and I couldn’t be more excited to have one of my top students, and now an esteemed colleague, Dr. Sharma, join me in pursuing the use of genomic science to help bring precision medicine solutions to our patients,” said Dr. Von Hoff, who also is a Senior Consultant-Clinical Investigations for City of Hope, Professor of Medicine at Mayo Clinic, as well as Chief Scientific Officer and Virginia G. Piper Distinguished Chair for Innovative Cancer Research at the HonorHealth Research Institute.
Dr. Sharma said he was excited to be joining TGen, City of Hope and HonorHealth, and is looking forward to bringing his research team from Utah to Arizona and California for expected “collaborations in quality science, with quality people.” Like Dr. Von Hoff, he will have a laboratory at TGen headquarters in downtown Phoenix, and clinical research and practice at the HonorHealth Research Institute.
“TGen is a national and international leader in genomics and its application in cancer and other diseases,” he said. “What I’m hoping to accomplish in my new appointments at all three of these remarkable institutes is to be a bridge between the lab and the clinic, and to leverage their expertise to help develop large and robust clinical research programs and further develop new biotechnology companies, as well as new anti-cancer molecules.”
Dr. Sharma’s main expertise is in gastro-intestinal oncology, but also other cancers and other diseases, including leukemia, prostate cancer, rare tumors, noncancerous growths, lung fibrosis and immunologic diseases.