Dr. Andrea Califano Named to the National Academy of Medicine

Andrea Califano, Dr., associate director of the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center and founding chair of the Department of Systems Biology at Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC), has been elected to the National Academy of Medicine (NAM). Membership in the NAM is considered one of the highest honors in the fields of health and medicine and recognizes individuals who have demonstrated outstanding professional achievements and commitment to service.  

A physicist by training, Dr. Califano has taken innovative, systematic approaches to identify the molecular factors that lead to cancer progression and to the emergence of drug resistance at the single-cell level. Directing the conversation about cancer research away from focusing solely on gene mutations, Dr. Califano examines the complex and tumor-specific molecular interaction networks that determine cancer cell behavior. Using information theoretic approaches, analysis of these networks can precisely pinpoint master regulator proteins that are mechanistically responsible for supporting tumorigenesis and for implementing tumor cell homeostasis. Dr. Califano and his lab have shown that master regulators represent critical drivers and tumor dependencies, despite the fact that they are rarely mutated or differentially expressed, thus establishing them as a bona fide new class of therapeutic targets.

The Califano Lab of Systems Biology combines computational and experimental methodologies to reconstruct the regulatory and signaling logic of human cells in genome-wide fashion. In addition, his lab has developed methods for the systematic discovery of small molecule compounds and combinations that can inactivate master regulator proteins in cancer, thus providing novel therapeutic hypotheses that can be validated pre-clinically and clinically. Indeed, several of his findings have been translated into clinical studies, including an innovative N-of-1 study at Columbia in which master regulators are identified and pharmacologically targeted on an individual patient basis in 14 aggressive malignancies, thus getting a step closer to deliver on the promise of a truly mechanistic implementation of precision medicine.

Over the past five years, Dr. Califano’s master regulator analyses have led to several discoveries that are now being tested in the clinics, including the drug entinostat in a subset of metastatic neuroendocrine tumor patients, the use of combination therapy in HER2+ and inflammatory breast cancer,  and additional phase 2 clinical trials in patients with recurrent pancreatic ductal carcinoma and metastatic prostate cancer. His research has been funded by the National Cancer Institute, Lustgarten Foundation, Falconwood Foundation, Hyundai Hope on Wheels, the NET Research Foundation and the Prostate Cancer Foundation.

Dr. Califano is currently the Clyde and Helen Wu Professor of Chemical and Systems Biology in the Departments of Systems Biology, Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics and Biomedical Informatics, and also serves as director of the JP Sulzberger Columbia Genome Center

Along with Dr. Califano, Jordan Scott Orange, MD, PhD, chair of pediatrics at CUIMC, has also been elected this year to the NAM. New members are elected by current members through a process that recognizes individuals who have made major contributions to the advancement of the medical sciences, health care and public health. Today, Drs. Califano and Orange join a class of 85 new members elected to the organizatioin. 

-Melanie A. Farmer