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Robert L. Ferris, MD, PhD, FACS

  • Director, UPMC Hillman Cancer Center
  • Professor, Departments of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, Immunology, and Radiation Oncology
  • Co-Director, Tumor Microenvironment Center
  • Associate Senior Vice Chancellor for Cancer Research
  • Hillman Professor of Oncology
  • UPMC Senior Vice President for Oncology Programs

Dr. Ferris is a head and neck surgical oncologist and pioneering cancer immunotherapist who develops and implements immunotherapy to stimulate the body’s immune system to eliminate and suppress cancer. As Director of the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, the region’s only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center, he has established a reputation for both clinical and research excellence.

Dr. Ferris currently serves on the editorial boards of the Journal of Clinical Oncology, Clinical Cancer Research and Cancer Immunology Research, and as section editor for the Journal for ImmunoTherapy of Cancer. He is Editor-in-Chief of Oral Oncology

Dr. Ferris has published more than 420 peer-reviewed manuscripts and book chapters. He is a member of the American Society for Clinical Investigation and the recipient of numerous research and teaching awards.

    Education & Training

  • Johns Hopkins Hospital, Residency in Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery
  • Johns Hopkins Medical School, PhD in Immunology
  • Johns Hopkins Medical School, MD
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, BA in Chemistry (with honors and distinction)
Research Interests

As a physician-scientist, Dr. Ferris seeks to further develop and implement immunotherapy, which stimulates the body’s immune system to eliminate and suppress cancer. He is principal investigator of the Hillman Specialized Programs of Research Excellence in head and neck cancer and leads a National Cancer Institute-funded immunotherapy laboratory.

By translating basic science discoveries into immunotherapies for the clinic, Dr. Ferris and colleagues are developing new techniques to combat head and neck tumors, as well as other types of cancers. He studies the immune response to human papillomavirus-associated head and neck cancers and treats patients with benign and malignant tumors of the head and neck using minimally invasive approaches.

As the Associate Senior Vice Chancellor for Cancer Research and the founding Co-Director of the Tumor Microenvironment Center, his goals are to facilitate and enhance development of new targets and therapeutic agents through collaborative, trans-disciplinary preclinical research and clinical application. These include immunosuppressive effects which inhibit clinical activity of cetuximab, including suppressive immunologic effects and immune escape mechanisms by tumor cells in cetuximab treated patients. 

Dr. Ferris serves as contact PI of the NCI P50 Head and Neck SPORE to further facilitate preclinical and clinical investigations and to stimulate new collaborations. He was elected Surgical Oncology Co-Chair of the NCI Head and Neck Steering committee, which provides additional opportunities to leverage translational and clinical oncology research. As Co-Chair of the ECOG Head and Neck committee, Dr. Ferris is leading two prospective randomized trials. ECOG 3311 (accrual 268/515) investigates the potential for surgical deintensification through reduced radiation dose in HPV+ oropharyngeal cancer patients treated with transoral robotic or laser surgery. More recently, ECOG-ACRIN 3132 compares adjuvant radiation alone vs. cisplation-radiation in patients with disruptive or nondisruptive p53 alteration, using a molecular biomarker of “high risk” status.