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Avi Ashkenazi - Senior Staff Scientist, Cancer Immunology

Avi Ashkenazi

Senior Staff Scientist, Cancer Immunology

Postdoc Mentor
Staff Scientist
"I believe that the most important purpose of science is to advance human knowledge toward practical applications that can transform or save human lives."
Years at Genentech
Awards & Honors

I received my PhD in Biochemistry in 1986 from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. I trained as a postdoctoral fellow from 1986 to 1989 at the University of California, San Francisco, and at Genentech, studying G protein-coupled receptors. Based on this research I received the first prize of the 1988 Boehringer Ingelheim Award. In 1989 I became a Research Scientist at Genentech and progressed through the scientific ranks to Senior Staff Scientist. In the early 1990’s I was involved in the development and translation of the immunoglobulin Fc-fusion protein technology, which is now widely used in biology research around the world and incorporated into several major biotech drugs. Later, my group discovered a number of novel members of the tumor necrosis factor (TNF) superfamily, most notably, the apoptosis-inducing ligand Apo2L/TRAIL and its "death" and "decoy" receptors. Our basic research helped elucidate the cell-extrinsic apoptosis pathway, and our translational work pioneered the development and clinical investigation of a class of molecules called pro-apoptotic receptor agonists. We also have contributed to the development of antibodies designed to block specific receptor tyrosine kinases as clinical candidates for cancer therapy, including fibroblast growth factor receptors. Most recently, our lab has been studying the mechanisms that mediate apoptosis activation in response to cellular stress caused by DNA damage or protein misfolding. To date, I have published 122 research papers and 36 review articles and have co-edited a book on antibody fusion proteins. My top 5 publications have been cited together over 13,000 times. My discoveries in the area of apoptosis are highlighted in the textbook "The biology of Cancer" (authored by Robert A. Weinberg). I have presented over 100 lectures at scientific institutions and conferences and have been a named inventor on 70 issued US patents. I co-chaired the international TNF conference in 2007 and have been a member of the editorial boards of Current Biology, Nature Reviews Cancer, Journal of Biological Chemistry, Clinical Cancer Research, and Cell Death & Differentiation.

Postdoctoral Mentor

To date I have mentored over 20 postdoctoral fellows who have gone on to obtain scientific positions in industry and academia. Many of these postdocs made central contributions to our lab’s success. Our postdocs have significant autonomy: They learn how to (1) formulate and address key scientific questions; (2) combine intellectual independence with collaborative teamwork; and (3) integrate basic and translational knowledge to help advance medicine.

Featured Publication

Opposing unfolded-protein-response signals converge on death receptor 5 to control apoptosis

Science, 2014, ISSN: 0036-8075

Lu, Min; Lawrence, David A; Marsters, Scot; Acosta-Alvear, Diego; Kimmig, Philipp; Mendez, Aaron S; Paton, Adrienne W; Paton, James C; Walter, Peter; Ashkenazi, Avi