Relentless Pursuit

Relentless Pursuit

Honoring A Man And His Methods

Daniel D. Von Hoff, M.D., is characterized by an indefatigable optimism, boundless creativity, and a relentless work ethic.  He has been heralded a Giant of Cancer Care, an Oncology Luminary, a translational medicine pioneer, a visionary, an innovator, and a hero.

“He is, without question, the most innovative physician-scientist in the world – always pushing the envelope, being ahead of the curve in his thinking, and driving to accomplish more for the survival of his patients,” states Margaret Foti, Ph.D., M.D., the long-time Chief Executive Officer for the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR). “Just think about how many peer-reviewed papers he has written – almost 800! Over 100 book chapters!”

Von Hoff’s career is marked by advancing the field one game-changing transformation at a time and a commitment to finding a cure. He focuses on developing new anticancer agents—in the clinic and laboratory.

“He doesn’t need much sleep,” Dr. Foti adds.

More than 70 percent of patients with pancreatic cancer die within one year of diagnosis, and fewer than 12 percent survive more than five years. Despite these grim statistics, Von Hoff is hopeful. He points out that twenty years ago, patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer had a 2% chance of surviving a year. Today patients now survive at least one year— while the survival rate for patients lasting two years climbed from zero to forty percent.

Resistance to pancreatic cancer therapies results in poor survival. Von Hoff’s current research involves developing precision therapies for pancreatic cancer patients by identifying the role of different pancreatic cancer cell populations in resistance to therapy. He has personally been involved in over 200 clinical trials, with his work leading to the first approved treatment for pancreatic cancer, the chemotherapy gemcitabine, and three of the four drugs approved by the FDA for the treatment of patients with advanced pancreatic cancer.

“Pancreatic cancer will be cured,” Von Hoff says confidently, offering a warm, folksy smile. “Advancements are happening every day. Many other cancers have been cured. This one will be too.”

Teacher, Mentor, Hero

In addition to his accomplishments in translational research, Von Hoff’s most important contributions to science may be as a mentor and educator. Through his personal tutelage and professional guidance throughout his long career, he has attracted and trained countless clinical fellows and junior clinical faculty in how to apply their knowledge to solve challenges in the laboratory and at the patient bedside to save more lives from cancer.

“He is the hero of thousands of colleagues around the world who are stimulated by his love of science and inspired by his compassionate, caring spirit and desire to help patients!” effuses Foti.

Dr. David Bearrs, President, Chairman, and CEO of Halia Therapeutics, concurs. “He’s been the greatest mentor to me not only professionally but personally.”

Bearrs joined Von Hoff as a post-doctoral fellow after defending his dissertation decades ago. He followed Von Hoff to Arizona for the chance to work in his lab. “It was an easy decision to make,” he explains. “I still talk to him about once a week.” This month, Dr. Bearrs was the 2023 recipient of the Utah Governor’s Science Medal for Science and Technology: Industry.

“I got into research because of my family history, my grandpa died the year I was born. He was 50 and died of colon cancer. Then my mom dies of colon cancer. It made an imprint on my life,” he explains. “That’s the great thing about working with Dr. Von Hoff. You never lose track of why you are doing what you are doing. He reminds you each day that we’re doing this for real people.”

Similarly, Foti notes the depth of his humanity, the ability never to lose sight of the person behind the diagnosis, as a distinguishing characteristic. Von Hoff blends the personal and professional, “he always makes time for people when they need him,” she explains. “In my case, when I called him about my sister’s diagnosis of late-stage ovarian cancer, he was there to advise my family and give them hope,” she explains. “It was an absolutely invaluable message of hope and caring that I have never forgotten.”

David Kroin, Founder and Chief Investment Officer at Deep Track Capital, where Von Hoff has been an advisor for years, offers an even more succinct synopsis, “He’s an incredible teacher with an incredible ability to understand the patient experience.”

When Kroin’s brother was diagnosed with rectal cancer three and a half years ago, he was told there was a 90% chance of having his whole colon removed. Kroin reached out to Von Hoff.

“There was no one else I would trust to advise on his cancer,” he explains. “He made a huge difference to that one patient—my brother— who wasn’t even his patient. Dan’s advice gave me confidence in clinical trials. Ultimately my brother didn’t have to have his colon removed.”

At the AACR, where Von Hoff served as President and on the Board of Directors, he helped the organization, which embodies all the sciences from the laboratory to the clinic, recognize the role it could play in science-based clinical research.

“Through his work on our Annual Meeting Program Committee, on the Council of Scientific Advisors, and on myriad clinical and translational research committees, he stimulated new thinking about how we could make a difference in the clinic through high-quality research,” Foti explains.

Beyond his institutional affiliations, Von Hoff leads educational workshops on methods in clinical cancer research. Since 1996, the Vail Workshop trains young investigators in clinical trial design. This extraordinary training opportunity has worked with 2,600 young clinical investigators in the U.S. and collectively more than 5,000 young clinical investigators around the world, delivering training from leading experts. This project alone has helped saved millions of lives from all types of cancer!

The Relentless Pursuit Initiative: Honoring the Man and His Methods

Honoring Von Hoff involves more than establishing a named position at TGen. It is about creating a sense of community and mutual respect for the physician’s calling to heal. It is about creating a space where humanity is always the central aspect of the work. It is about fostering the researcher’s intellectual curiosity and creativity.

Reflecting on Von Hoff’s mentorship, friendship, and guidance over the years, Bearrs explains, “At the end of my life, I don’t really care how many scientific publications I’ve had or the many things we get measured by professionally…just knowing that you’ve helped save people’s lives is what I care about.”

We want to recognize, honor, and preserve that ability to center what is most important for future researchers. For this reason, the creation of The Daniel D. Von Hoff, M.D. Endowed Chair in Cancer Research, not only honors its namesake but sets the example for the next generation of physician-scientists to channel his compassion and relentless pursuit of cures for the most debilitating and life-threatening cancer diseases. The newly created endowed position will be an evolving representation of a life filled with faith, family, and friends. It is a recognition of a revered medical career and an exceptional human being.

Endowment, designed thoughtfully and intentionally, provides a perpetual source of funding to be used to support critically important institutional initiatives well into the future. At TGen, the goal is to eradicate disease with speed and precision. Our reality is that the more we learn about human disease, particularly in the context of cancer, the more complex it becomes. TGen’s track record in moving new discoveries from our bench to the patients who need them has been swift—in the world of science—and stellar. And yet, this work continues to be time-consuming, resource intensive, and often too early or too risky for funding by traditional sources.

The Relentless Pursuit initiative creates The Daniel D. Von Hoff, M.D. Endowed Chair in Cancer Research. Creating an endowed chair position that honors Dr. Von Hoff’s outstanding career with TGen and in the larger medical and research community ensures that research, with a focus on pancreatic cancer, remains at the forefront of TGen’s commitment to early detection, smarter treatment and better outcomes for patients.

TGen honors Dr. Von Hoff with this named fund today with the understanding and expectation that his work will continue until pancreatic cancer is cured.

To support the Relentless Pursuit Initiative please visit the TGen Foundation website at or contact a foundation member listed below.

Erin Massey
Chief Development Officer
[email protected]

Stephanie Grinage
Vice President, Individual Giving
[email protected]


How Best Can I Serve?

5 Questions for Daniel D. Von Hoff, M.D., F.A.C.P.

1. You have already contributed so much to cancer research and the development of promising therapies for patients. Is there a specific area of focus for you into the future?

I have been privileged to work on many new therapies which are now FDA approved. Therapies that include mitoxantrone for prostate cancer and leukemia, Taxol for treatment of breast, lung and multiple other cancers, gemcitabine for ovarian, pancreatic and lung cancer, irinotecan for colon and pancreas, capecitabine for colon and breast, and the list goes on. The great news is we are asked by many preclinical scientists to help develop their agents in the clinic. We will continue to pursue new agent development with enthusiasm and a sense of urgency.

2. What can we anticipate from your ongoing research and clinical trials toward finding a cure for pancreatic cancer?

There are finally some advances in terms of improving survival for patients with stage IV pancreatic cancer. We are proud of developing 3 of the 4 FDA approved regimens. But we haven’t cured the disease yet and that is embarrassing. We have 2 efforts working toward the cure.

Our first plan is using the best possible science to continue to develop therapies to help patients who present with stage IV pancreatic cancer.

Our second plan is to develop a way for very early detection of the disease. This is a three-pronged approach called DEF (determine, enrich, find). This is done first by determining who is at highest risk at the population level. Our colleagues, Drs. Cristian Tomasetti and Nicholas Schork are doing just that. Enrichment is being done by Dr. Jeffrey Trent and his genetics team by defining who has a molecular risk. Finally, we have to apply their determination and enrichment to find individual patients to identify their cancer earlier.

3. What are you excited about right now resulting from the DEF approach?

Dr. Ajay Goel, Dr. Haiyong Han and I are working on a blood test for very early detection of pancreatic cancer. We recently published our early results and are excited to have just been awarded a major National Cancer Institute grant to perfect the test.

There is no doubt that like what happened for breast and so many other cancers, using therapies effective in stage IV cancer can cure patients with earlier stage I, II, or III diseases. We can do this! This will actually lead to a cure for pancreatic cancer.

4. As you continue your work into the future, where do you feel you can help the most?

The advances in medicine have been rather astounding—new antibiotics and antibodies and ways to treat cancers, neurological disorders, heart disease, that were once untreatable. In order to make more of these advances—in a compassionate, caring way—we must teach the next generation of physicians, nurses, and scientists. This is where I hope I can be most helpful. I am fortunate to work with TGen, City of Hope and HonorHealth Research Institute colleagues who are some of the very best creative caring people I have ever worked with. We are incredibly grateful and motivated by our funders, donors and supporters for giving us a special place to work against diseases that impact human health.

5. In June, TGen closes out its 20th Anniversary celebration. How are you approaching the next 20 years?

In Psalms 90:12 Moses prays, “so teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” With the time that I have left I ask myself, “How can I best serve?”