Campus News

Alumni Spotlight: Meet Pedram Razavi, a USC alum developing new paradigms for cancer treatment and therapeutics

Bokie Muigai April 11, 2024
Dr. Pedram Razavi

(Image courtesy Pedram Razavi)

Pedram Razavi, MD, PhD, is a physician-scientist and breast oncologist who received his Master of Public Health (MPH) (2007) and Doctor of Philosophy in Epidemiology (2010) from the Department of Population and Public Health Sciences at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. He currently serves as a faculty member at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) in New York and holds multiple positions including Director of Translational Program Program and Molecular Tumor Board for breast cancer; and Director of Liquid Biopsy and Cancer Genomics for the MSK Global Biomarker Development Program (BDP).

Razavi came to the United States to become an oncologist after completing medical school at Tehran University, Iran. “Shortly after I enrolled in the MPH program at USC, I realized my passion around cancer epidemiology and decided to focus and advance in this area— so I switched to the PhD program. I was at USC for about five years, and it was an exciting and vibrant environment to conduct research,” he reveals. Read more about Razavi’s career trajectory and his passion for cancer research.

What sparked your interest in cancer research?

Very early on in medical school, I started reading oncology literature and that stayed with me. I wanted to dedicate my time to helping cancer patients because it gave me a sense of purpose and direction. This was in 1994-95, which marked the very beginning of the revolution in oncology. There were some developments in new targeted therapies and as I learned about them, I became even more passionate about the field.

What was your most impactful education experience at USC?

It was at USC that I saw the potential of the field of cancer epidemiology, which aligned with my passion. I am probably where I am today because of the decision I made to focus on training, which provided me with a strong foundation in clinical and translational research methodology, epidemiological and clinical trial design, and biostatistics.

I had a fantastic team of mentors including Drs. Giske Ursine, Malcolm Pike, and Roberta McKean-Cowdin. Pike was such an inspiration—he was passionate about research and understanding the data. I still remember his dedication to questions, and his meticulous nature, repeating certain analyses until we were as certain as possible that it was accurate. I was in an environment where everyone was dedicated to the work and methodology, and that foundation has helped me immensely ever since.

How has your research evolved over time?

At USC, I worked on genetic and environmental risk factors and their interactions resulting in cancer development. My postdoctoral research was on biomarker development through a joint program between USC and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. I conducted research on how the disruption of the circadian rhythm increased the risk of cancer. Afterwards, I attended the internal medicine residency program at USC.

Staying at USC was beneficial in terms of exposure because I had already developed meaningful relationships with my colleagues and had a strong mentorship team. I was deeply involved after graduation and during my residency in research collaborating with some of the best hematology and oncology faculty and researchers at USC.

Afterwards, I moved to New York to MSK for my fellowship in medical oncology. It was truly an inspiration to join the laboratory of my late mentor Dr. Jose Baselga who was instrumental in expanding my horizons to translational research and cancer genomics.  At MSK, I received further training, building upon my previous expertise in population genetics and moving into cancer genomics and liquid biopsy.

What are some of your current responsibilities?

In my capacity as the lead for the translational program for breast cancer, we are trying to better understand the cancer evolution and mechanisms of response and resistance to therapy. We utilize different sequencing technologies and have developed computational and analytical platforms to systematically analyze genomic and clinico-pathologic data from patients with cancer to identify biomarkers of resistance and response to therapy and to predict outcomes. We want to understand and potentially predict how a tumor would behave during therapy and any potential mechanisms that evade the intended effect of therapy. I also established the MSK Breast Molecular Tumor Board, which is a platform to provide comprehensive and multidisciplinary review of the tumor molecular profile and therapeutic recommendations for patients with breast cancer at MSK.

As director of liquid biopsy at BDP, we have a very active program trying to understand the utility of liquid biopsy and circulating tumor DNA to monitor the evolution of disease, predict outcomes and detect recurrence of disease.

My ultimate goal is to put all of these into the perspective of developing new paradigms for treatment and therapeutics, as well as new clinical trials for patients that can lead to better outcomes for patients.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The highlight of my week is my clinic day— I’m still hugely passionate about patient care. I draw inspiration from them and the successes we witness when our therapeutic approach works. I am equally committed to learn from every single patient, especially when cancer overcomes the efficacy of our treatments, and we fail to achieve desired outcomes.

I spend around 80% of my time doing research, and a major part of my satisfaction comes from working with the highly talented team at MSK. This includes word-class collaborators and cancer scientists and our outstanding fellows, postdocs, and graduate students, and dedicated research staff.

What is your advice to current students?

Do what you love and what you are passionate about! I encourage you to work on projects and research that you are excited to learn about. That is where you make a change, and for every person it is different. College is a good time to explore your passions and public health is a wide-ranging field which exposes students to many opportunities. My advice is to find what resonates with you and follow that passion.