Robert L. Ferris, MD, PhD

  • Professor, Department of Otolaryngology
  • Director, UPMC Hillman Cancer Center
  • Hillman Professor of Oncology
  • Associate Vice Chancellor for Cancer Research
  • Co-Director, Tumor Microenvironment Center
  • Professor, Department of Immunology
  • Professor, Department of Radiation Oncology
  • Member, Graduate Program in Microbiology and Immunology (PMI)

Education & Training

  • PhD, Johns Hopkins Medical School, 1998
  • MD, Johns Hopkins Medical School, 1995
  • BA, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1990

Research Interests

Dr. Ferris serves as the Director of the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center and Co-Director of the Tumor Microenvironment Center. In these capacities, his goals are to facilitate and enhance development of new targets and therapeutic agents through collaborative, trans-disciplinary preclinical research and clinical application. As a head and neck surgical oncologist and NIH R01 funded basic/translational tumor immunologist, Dr. Ferris’s lab is uniquely positioned to investigate mechanisms of anti-tumor immunity in the tumor microenvironment (TME), as well as tumor cell escape. His lab also studies immune checkpoint receptor signals and cellular mechanisms of anti-tumor responses and immunotherapy in head and neck cancer patients. They are currently investigating immunosuppressive effects which inhibit clinical activity of therapeutic antibodies such as immune checkpoint therapies targeting PD-1 and CTLA-4, as well as cetuximab, including suppressive immunologic effects on tumor infiltrating lymphocytes and immune escape mechanisms by tumor cells. They have studied the role of HPV in HNSCC extensively, and particularly host response in the TME and its therapeutic implications. Dr. Ferris has substantial experience running phase I and phase II clinical trials, as well as correlative studies of immune markers in the serum and TME.  Dr. Ferris is currently leading several prospective phase I, II, and III trials in HPV+/- HNSCC and anti-viral immunity, with HPV therapeutic vaccines and anti-PD-1 mAb immunotherapy providing insights and potential synergy with novel mechanistic and therapeutic information gained from the proposed work.


Cillo AR, Kürten CHL, Tabib T, Qi Z, Onkar S, Wang T, Liu A, Duvvuri U, Kim S, Soose RJ, Oesterreich S, Chen W, Lafyatis R, Bruno TC, Ferris RL and Vignali DAA. 2020. Immune Landscape of Viral- and Carcinogen-Driven Head and Neck Cancer. Immunity. 52: 183-199.

Concha-Benavente F, Kansy B, Moskovitz J, Moy J, Chandran U and Ferris RL. 2018. PD-L1 Mediates Dysfunction in Activated PD-1+ NK Cells in Head and Neck Cancer Patients. Cancer Immunol Res. 6: 1548-1560.

Liu Z, McMichael EL, Shayan G, Li J, Chen K, Srivastava R, Kane LP, Lu B and Ferris RL. 2018. Novel Effector Phenotype of Tim-3+ Regulatory T Cells Leads to Enhanced Suppressive Function in Head and Neck Cancer Patients. Clin Can Res. 25: 4529-4538.

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