Adekunle “Kunle” Odunsi, an expert in immunotherapy and vaccine therapy for cancer, has been appointed director of the University of Chicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center effective, March 1, 2021. Odunsi also will serve as BSD Dean for Oncology and Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Chicago.
Odunsi is a nationally recognized physician-scientist with a deep knowledge of discovery and innovation in oncology. He comes to Chicago from Buffalo, New York, where he served as deputy director at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. He also served as executive director of the Center for Immunotherapy and chair of the Department of Gynecologic Oncology at Roswell Park.
“Dr. Odunsi will be charged with taking UChicago Medicine’s National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center to the next level of excellence among the elite cancer programs in the country,” said Kenneth Polonsky, dean and executive vice president for biology and medicine at the University of Chicago and president of the UChicago Medicine health system. “He will play a central role in integrating research, clinical care and education, and in strategic planning for community outreach and engagement.”
Odunsi is a gynecologic oncologist whose research focuses on understanding the mechanisms of immune recognition and tolerance in ovarian cancer and translating these findings to clinical immunotherapy trials. He pioneered the development of antigen-specific vaccine therapy and “next-generation” adoptive T-cell immunotherapies to prolong remission rates in women with ovarian cancer.
“I am incredibly honored and thrilled to be joining the University of Chicago to lead such an outstanding cancer center,” said Odunsi. “With the exceptional reputation for cutting-edge cancer research, compassionate state-of-the-art cancer care and culture of innovation throughout the UChicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center, there are limitless possibilities as to what we can accomplish together.”
Odunsi’s honors and awards include election to the National Academy of Medicine in 2018 and the Rosalind Franklin Excellence in Ovarian Cancer Research Award in 2019. Odunsi received his medical degree from the University of Ife in Nigeria, and his Ph.D. degree from the Imperial Cancer Research Fund Laboratories, MRC Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine, John Radcliffe Hospital, in Oxford, United Kingdom.
Odunsi will succeed Michelle Le Beau, the Arthur and Marian Edelstein Professor of Medicine, who has led the Cancer Center since 2004. Under Le Beau’s direction and strategic vision, the Cancer Center was awarded NCI’s Comprehensive designation in 2008 and has maintained it since. She has guided more than 200 physicians and researchers in the expansion of clinical care, research, education and community engagement.
“Dr. Le Beau has worked tirelessly to revitalize the Cancer Center and realize its full potential,” Polonsky said. “Under her leadership, the strong focus on basic cancer discovery research has been strengthened, and she has led efforts to stimulate new research program development, particularly in the areas of population and clinical research.”