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Gordon B. Mills, MD, PhD

Professor Cell Development and Cancer Biology
Wayne and Julie Drinkward Endowed Chair in Precision Oncology
Director of Precision Oncology, Knight Cancer Institute
Oregon Health Sciences University
Portland, Oregon

Current Research

  • Seeking to advance new drugs and drug combinations to benefit patients with breast cancer.
  • Sophisticated laboratory models are employed to test combinations of targeted and immune-based drugs.
  • These studies could deliver effective immunotherapy-based treatments to breast cancer patients.

Advances in immunotherapy have improved outcomes for patients with melanoma, lung and some other cancers, but so far little success has been seen in patients with breast cancer. Identifying which patients are most likely to benefit from immunotherapy will greatly improve the success of these agents and may identify ways that more patients can benefit. Dr. Mills utilizes sophisticated human-based model systems to test combination approaches that will improve response to immunotherapy and identify patients most likely to respond. 

Full Research Summary

In the past, all breast cancers were treated the same way, which is with chemotherapy–toxic drugs that kill not only cancer cells, but healthy cells as well. Although these therapies are successful for many, only two out of three breast cancer patients will benefit from standard chemotherapy, while at the same time enduring significant side effects.

The key to truly personalized medicine is in understanding the tumor within the context of the individual. For example, a tumor that has a mutated gene does not behave the same way in every woman. Its behavior is influenced by the genetic make-up of the individual. 

Dr. Mills and colleagues have established a series of preclinical models of breast cancer that are derived from a patient’s own tumor. These models allow exploration of the exciting new area of immunotherapy and particularly of combination therapies. They are also tools for preclinical validation of existing drugs to identify mechanisms of resistance and biomarkers of response.

Using these models, Dr. Mills’ team developed and validated a striking number of drug combinations over the last year and has begun to move these to the clinic. They continue to validate these and other combinations.

Based on success to date, they expect to be able to rapidly translate these observations into novel and effective clinical trials that will improve the outcomes for breast cancer patients.


Dr. Gordon Mills is the Director of Precision Oncology and SMMART trials at the Knight Cancer Institute at the Oregon Health Sciences University. He is responsible for the implementation of an integrated program of tumor analysis, decision-making and implementation of novel precision oncology trials. The key goal of these programs is to use serial tumor and liquid biopsies to evaluate and target adaptive responses in real time to interdict cancer evolution.

His research covers several areas 1) translating the cancer genome through mechanistic studies; 2) determining the role of genomic and other aberrations present in patient tumors, 3) identification and validation of therapeutic targets emphasizing mechanisms of resistance and rational combination therapy to overcome emerging resistance in evolving cancers, 4) developing, validating, and implementing molecular markers; and 5) integrating data through a cancer systems biology approach into robust predictive mathematical models.

The overarching goal of his research program is to perform deep molecular analysis of each patient “to let the patient teach us what is important”. This process is facilitated by the implementation and integration of a comprehensive suite of high-throughput technologies including assessment of genomic aberrations, transcriptional profiles, functional proteomics and metabolomics, and drug screening using conventional and high content imaging systems.

He has also implemented a comprehensive functional genomics program designed to distinguish drivers from passengers and identify their therapeutic liabilities. These efforts have been recognized in the Komen Foundation’s Brinker Award for Scientific Excellence and the Finneran Family Prize for Translational Research. Dr. Mills has been very successful in supporting the training, mentoring, and career development for young scientists including graduate students, fellows, and junior faculty, most of whom have developed successful research careers rising through the ranks to full professor, department chairs, and institute directors. Based on his mentoring role, he has been nominated for and awarded multiple mentoring awards, including the Stand Up 2 Cancer Laura Ziskin Prize for Mentoring.

Grid Researcher Headshot - Mills G

BCRF Investigator Since


Area(s) of Focus