UF Health Cancer Center Leadership Updates

The University of Florida Health Cancer Center is pleased to announce two leadership changes that will further the center’s goal of advancing innovation and excellence in cancer research, care, delivery and education.

In October, Duane Mitchell, M.D., Ph.D., joined the Cancer Center’s executive leadership team as associate director for innovation and discovery and Elias Sayour, M.D., was appointed co-leader of the Cancer Therapeutics & Host Response (CTHR) research program.

Duane Mitchell, M.D., Ph.D.

As associate director for innovation and discovery, Dr. Mitchell, along with other members of the senior leadership team, will provide leadership and direction for the Center in the furtherance of its mission — to serve Florida and the nation as an internationally recognized center of excellence and to prevent, detect, treat and ultimately cure cancer while addressing the unique challenges of the cancer burden faced by the population we serve. 

“We’re thrilled to have Dr. Mitchell join the executive committee of the Cancer Center, cementing our close collaboration with the UF Clinical and Translational Science Institute and acknowledging his ability to stimulate innovations from the laboratory to the clinic,” said Jonathan Licht, M.D., director of the UF Health Cancer Center.

In this newly created role, Dr. Mitchell is charged with working with the associate directors for basic and population sciences, as well as program leaders from the Cancer Center’s research programs to oversee the translation of scientific discoveries made within the programs to patient care in clinical spaces. Dr. Mitchell will also identify opportunities for growth to facilitate interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary cancer research to harness UF’s considerable intellectual talent and scientific resources and focus them on solving the Center’s catchment area cancer burden and the nation’s cancer problem.

“In this role, I aim to help enhance translational research pathways, infrastructure and support in order to accelerate the impact of discoveries made by UF investigators on cancer prevention, treatment, and survivorship,” said Dr. Mitchell. “Our university has tremendous physical, environmental and intellectual resources to leverage against the cancer problem, and I am excited to work with the executive leadership and membership of the Cancer Center in harnessing those resources to improve outcomes for our patients.” 

This leadership position also serves as the center’s liaison with the UF Office of Research, UF Innovate, the UF Office of Clinical Research and UF Health to facilitate bringing forward discoveries that are translated into clinical trials and/or patents and licensing agreements that move discoveries to market. 

“I am looking forward to working with Dr. Licht and the executive leadership team in helping to advance the impact of our institution’s cancer research efforts in improving outcomes for patients with cancer and in achieving NCI-designation for the center,” said Dr. Mitchell. 

Dr. Mitchell graduated from Rutgers University-New Brunswick with a bachelor’s degree in biology, and received his medical degree and doctorate in immunology from Duke University. In 2013, Dr. Mitchell joined the UF faculty and leads a comprehensive brain tumor program focused on translational research. He has considerable clinical and translational research experience, having successfully developed five FDA-approved investigational new drug applications for new brain tumor therapies discovered in his laboratory. He has also directed over ten clinical trials exploring novel brain tumor immunotherapies developed in his laboratory for adults and children with incurable brain cancers.

Dr. Mitchell has received over $40 million in research grants to support his work, including funding from the National Cancer Institute, the National Institute of Neurologic Diseases and Stroke, National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Defense. He holds numerous patents for novel cancer therapeutics and has received several honors and awards for his work. 

In 2016, Dr. Mitchell received a Top 10 Clinical Research Achievement Award from the Clinical Research Forum in Washington, D.C., in recognition of his team’s work in advancing a new cancer vaccine for patients with glioblastoma. Dr. Mitchell has a strong record of training M.D.-Ph.D. and Ph.D. students in the areas of immunology and brain tumor biology.

Dr. Mitchell serves as the co-director of UF’s Preston A. Wells Jr. Center for Brain Tumor Therapy and the director of the UF Clinical and Translational Science Institute. Since 2016, Dr. Mitchell has also served as the co-leader of the UF Health Cancer Center’s Cancer Therapeutics & Host Response (CTHR) research program. 

He will be succeeded by Elias Sayour, M.D., Ph.D. an associate professor of neurosurgery and pediatrics, and principal investigator of the RNA Engineering Laboratory within the Preston A. Wells, Jr. Center for Brain Tumor Therapy and UF Brain Tumor Immunotherapy Program. 

Elias Sayour, M.D., Ph.D.

“Dr. Sayour, who learned the ways of the Jedi from Dr. Mitchell, is a remarkably talented and exciting successor in the leadership of the CTHR research program,” said Dr. Licht. “His deep dedication to outstanding patient care for children with cancer and determination to develop new therapies for all types of malignancy make him a perfect leader for this program.”

Dr. Sayour will serve as co-leader of the CTHR research program alongside Christian Jobin, Ph.D., a tenured professor of medicine in the UF College of Medicines’ division of gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition. Together, they will further the mission of the CTHR research program: to advance the understanding of interactions between tumor cells, immune cells and microbiota that mediate tumor development, progression and host responses, and to develop therapeutics that capitalize on these mechanisms and interactions. 

“I look forward to integrating and coalescing the myriad exciting endeavors taking place across campus in engineering, veterinary medicine, the UF College of Medicine and the CTSI toward cancer research,” said Dr. Sayour.

In his new role, Dr. Sayour says he aims to increase the number and breadth of UF investigator-initiated trials — particularly first-in-human immunotherapy trials. He also seeks to increase the number of physician-scientists and clinical investigators interested in cancer research while fostering novel training opportunities and growing the Pediatric Cancer Immunotherapy Initiative (PCI2) into a nationally recognized center of excellence.

Dr. Sayour completed undergraduate training at Fordham University, received his medical degree from the University at Buffalo and his doctorate from Duke University. After finishing his pediatric residency at Cohen’s Children’s Medical Center of New York, he completed a hematology-oncology fellowship at Duke University Medical Center before accepting a faculty position at the University of Florida.

Dr. Sayour is currently an NIH funded investigator and a board-certified pediatric oncologist. He serves as vice chair of the UF Health Cancer Center Scientific Review Monitoring Committee (SRMC) and as pediatric Disease-Site Group (DSG) leader. 

Dr. Sayour has extensive translational experience having served as sponsor of multiple FDA-IND submissions (BB-19304, BB-20871) and as PI/Study Chair on first-in-human clinical trials (NCT03334305, NCT04573140). He serves as UF institutional PI for the prestigious Pediatric Brain Tumor Consortium and Pacific Pediatric Neuro-Oncology Consortium, allowing him to coordinate both UF and national resources to advance promising therapeutics, clinical trials and facilitate cross-programmatic working groups between basic scientists and clinical investigators. In October, Dr. Sayour was awarded Innovation of the Year from UF Innovate | Tech Licensing for developing mRNA vaccines to train the immune system to fight cancer. 

In March 2020, Dr. Sayour received a $2.5 million grant from CureSearch for Children’s Cancer to undertake a first-in-human clinical trial to test a novel form of immunotherapy to treat the most aggressive forms of malignant brain tumors. In February, he was awarded a Method to Extend Research in Time (MERIT)(R37) Award from the NCI titled,“Overcoming the blood-brain barrier with nanoparticle vaccines against gliomas.” This prestigious award (R37 CA251978) provides longer-term grant support to early-stage investigators with up to seven years of support awarded by NCI.

Please join us in welcoming Drs. Mitchell and Sayour into their new roles.