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Moffitt Cancer Center selects a new CEO, Dr. Patrick Hwu

After 17 years at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas, he fills a position left vacant after last year's scandal over foreign influence.
Dr. Patrick Hwu will become president and CEO of Moffitt Cancer Center in November.
Dr. Patrick Hwu will become president and CEO of Moffitt Cancer Center in November. [ Moffitt Cancer Center ]
Published Aug. 20, 2020
Updated Aug. 20, 2020

Moffitt Cancer Center has named Dr. Patrick Hwu, a tumor immunologist with 33 years of oncology experience, its new president and CEO.

He comes from MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas, the nation’s top cancer hospital, where he is head of cancer medicine. Hwu, 57, starts at Moffitt Nov. 10.

The announcement Thursday comes about eight months after former Moffitt CEO Dr. Alan List and five others at the hospital resigned amid a controversy that linked them to possible exploitation of American-funded research by China.

In an interview with the Tampa Bay Times, Hwu said he helped resolve a similar situation at MD Anderson in the spring of 2019, when five faculty members were found to have conflicts of interest with entities in China.

Hwu didn’t share specifics about how he handled those issues but said he aimed to quickly get the institution back on track. He said Moffitt has done the same by placing special attention on transparency, conflict of interest management and cybersecurity.

The coronavirus pandemic has taken some of the focus off Moffitt’s scandal, which sparked an investigation by a committee in the Florida House. The panel, led by Palm Harbor Republican state Rep. Chris Sprowls, hasn’t met since early March.

Sprowls said Thursday that he will revisit the issue during the 2021 Legislative session. “I want to ensure the work at our research institutions, which is funded by taxpayers, isn’t ending up in places like China,” he added. “We’ll continue to be aggressive about weeding that out.”

Hwu’s hiring is a new beginning for Moffitt, said Tim Adams, chairman of the Moffitt Institute Board of Directors. He expects the doctor to take Moffitt, Florida’s top cancer hospital, to even greater heights.

Nearly 200 applicants, mostly from the U.S. and Canada, were considered for the job, Adams said. Those were narrowed to 30, then six, then four.

“And then we found the perfect person in Dr. Hwu,” Adams said. “We really think he’s going to kick us up to the next level and we’re going to become the most impactful cancer center in the world.”

Hwu, who has served as an advisor to Moffitt’s scientific review board for the last eight years, said he was drawn to the center because of its “sense of urgency” around curing cancer.

“I saw that Moffitt was already very entrepreneurial, very aggressive,” he said. “When this opportunity opened up, I jumped at it.”

Hwu has been at MD Anderson for 17 years, holding various leadership roles, including chair of the Department of Sarcoma Medical Oncology and co-director of the Center for Cancer Immunology Research.

Though he has valued his time there, he said he was looking for a place that he could help grow. He felt Moffitt had a firm foundation ready to be built upon, and said he’s confident it will one day rise to the level of MD Anderson.

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Adams said Hwu’s role as the president-elect of the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer will help Moffitt gain exposure. The doctor also serves on the Melanoma Research Alliance Foundation Medical Advisory Panel in Washington, D.C.

Hwu’s research is focused on vaccines, adoptive T-cell therapies and immune resistance, and he has more than 270 peer-reviewed publications. He plans to continue some of that work while serving as CEO, though most of his time will be spent managing the hospital, he said.

“He believes passionately that we can cure cancer,” Adams said of Hwu. “And we believe him.”

Hwu’s goals for Moffitt include making it the nation’s leading hospital for immunotherapy and therapies that target specific types of cancer. His career has been largely focused on immunotherapy, which involves growing cells that can be introduced into a patient’s body to boost their immune system.

Often, it helps patients avoid chemotherapy and other treatments that come with significant side effects. Hwu said he’s seen immunotherapy save lives.

“It’s like paratrooping the cells into the patient’s body to go and fight the cancer,” he explained. “In the past 10 years, because of the advances ... a large majority of my melanoma patients are surviving a very long time, and I’m having deep relationships with them and getting to see pictures of their grandchildren.”

Hwu said he’s confident Moffitt will discover how to use those therapies for all kinds of cancer, and become a global leader for the treatments.

“All the pieces are in place,” he said. “That’s why I’m here, because I see that. ... It’s an exciting future for Moffitt, Tampa and the state of Florida.”