The 2014 Ruckenstein Lecture Series

Dr. Mark E. Davis

California Institute of Technology | Warren and Katharine Schlinger Professor of Chemical Engineering

Fighting Cancer with Nanoparticle Medicines: The Nanoscale Matters!

Image of Mark E. Davis.

Papyrus writings from 1600-1500 BC describe cancer and attempts at its treatment. Today, centuries later, cancer remains a devastating disease. Given the long history of difficulties in developing cancer therapies, why is there excitement about nanoparticle medicine (nanomedicines) for fighting cancer? In this lecture, I will present the current understandings of why these engineered, nanosized medicines (that are highly multifunctional chemical systems) have the potential to provide “game changing” ways to treat cancer. The nanoscale matters. I will illustrate this point by demonstrating how physical insights at the nanoscale allow for the development of nanoparticles that can function as intended in animals and humans. The data from humans will be used to show how we have translated two independent nanoparticle cancer therapeutics from laboratory curiosities to experimental therapeutics in human clinical trials.


Mark E. Davis is the Warren and Katharine Schlinger Professor of Chemical Engineering at the California Institute of Technology and a member of the Experimental Therapeutics Program of the Comprehensive Cancer Center at the City of Hope and the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center at UCLA. He has over 400 scientific publications, two textbooks and over 60 US patents. Professor Davis is a founding editor of CaTTech and has been an associate editor of Chemistry of Materials and the AIChE Journal. He is the recipient of numerous awards including the Colburn and Professional Progress Awards from the AIChE and the Somorjai, Ipatieff, Langmuir, Murphree and Gaden Prizes from the ACS. Professor Davis was the first engineer to win the NSF Alan T. Waterman Award. He was elected in the National Academy of Engineering in 1997, the National Academy of Sciences in 2006 and the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies in 2011. Professor Davis’ research efforts involve materials synthesis in two general areas; namely, zeolites and other solids that can be used for molecular recognition and catalysis, and polymers for the delivery of a broad range of therapeutics. He is the founder of Insert Therapeutics Inc., Calando Pharmaceuticals, Inc. a company that created the first RNAi therapeutic to reach the clinic for treating cancer, and Avidity Nanomedicines. He has been a member of the scientific advisory boards of Symyx (Nasdaq: SMMX) and Alnylam (Nasdaq: ALNY). Professor Davis has achieved All American Status for Masters Track and Field in the 400, 200 and 100 Meter Dashes. In 2011, he won the 400 Meter Dash for men of age 55-59 at the Masters World Championship.