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Physician leader, known for breakthrough in how cancer cells spread, joins OHSU Knight Cancer Institute

Raymond Bergan, M.D., formerly of Northwestern University, will lead OHSU’s Hematology & Medical Oncology division; focus will be on development and delivery of highly tailored treatments

Raymond Bergan, M.D. — an internationally regarded cancer specialist known for leading breakthrough studies on how cancer cells spread and preventive treatments for high risk patients — has joined Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) as head of Hematology & Medical Oncology in the School of Medicine and associate director of medical oncology for the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute.

Bergan, who was recruited from Northwestern University, led a research team that expanded the understanding of how early stage cancer cells transform to travel throughout the body. His laboratory was the first to use drugs to target this form of disease progression in humans. Understanding the changes that enable the spread of the disease is essential to saving lives; metastasis is a leading cause of death in cancer patients.

At the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute, Bergan will establish a research laboratory continuing this work as part of his role in overseeing the Division of Hematology & Medical Oncology, which includes about 40 physician specialists. His other patient care and research priorities will include expanding the institute’s offering of early phase drug trials and applying the latest drug developments. His goal is to work with the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute’s team of researchers to provide highly tailored treatments to patients, including those with early or advanced cancer, and change the course of their disease.

“Dr. Bergan shares our urgency to better understand how best to treat cancer using an understanding of what drives the growth of each patient’s cancer. He will make a significant contribution to the world-class team we are bringing together to ensure that treatment plans are personalized to each patient’s unique situation as we strive to improve outcomes for all patients with cancer,” said Brian Druker, M.D., director of the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute and associate dean for oncology in the OHSU School of Medicine.

Bergan’s recruitment is part of an unprecedented expansion under way at the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute as it nears completion of a $1 billion fundraising campaign, launched with a $500 million pledge from Nike Co-Founder Phil Knight and his wife Penny. The $1 billion investment will expand the institute’s clinical and research operations as well as assemble a team of top scientists devoted to developing next-generation tests and technologies to detect lethal forms of cancer before they can gain a foothold in the body.

Early cancer detection is a natural progression of the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute’s work. Druker proved it was possible to revolutionize cancer treatment by targeting only the malfunctioning parts of cells causing the disease, leaving healthy cells unharmed.

“I was drawn to OHSU because the leadership shares my dedication to understanding cancer at a fundamental and molecular level. My goal is to work with the team at the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute to create a framework that will enable us to better use information collected from each patient to design an optimal therapeutic strategy uniquely tailored to their disease,” Bergan said.

Bergan previously served as the director of experimental therapeutics for Northwestern University’s Robert H. Lurie Cancer Center, co-director of the Center for Molecular Innovation and Drug Discovery as well as a professor in the Department of Medicine. He developed and led one of only five National Cancer Institute-funded early phase cancer chemoprevention clinical trials groups. Under Bergan’s direction, this highly talented group of national and international investigators, from 19 leading research institutions, including two in China, has made major findings that are beginning to transform the field. These breakthroughs include demonstrating that organ-specific delivery of drugs for cancer prevention in patients at high risk of developing the disease is not only effective and safe, but it can reverse fundamental changes in cells that trigger the creation of the disease. Bergan’s team also proved that the impact of preventive treatment can be measured using light-based technology. This work, in turn, showed the technology’s potential to measure the effectiveness of treatments to reduce cancer risk in patients as they are receiving therapy. Finally, he is also researching how chemicals can potentially interact with proteins as a means to accelerate precision cancer drug development. Together, these strategies aim at treating cancer when it is most vulnerable, and have led to treatment advances across several cancer types.

Bergan plans to begin seeing prostate cancer patients, his area of clinical specialty, in the spring.

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