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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

Goal: To develop new treatment combinations for breast cancer patients and identify markers to predict which patients are most likely to benefit from them.

Impact: Dr. Mills is developing sophisticated laboratory models of different subtypes of breast cancer that allow him to test the effectiveness of immunotherapy alone and in combination with other targeted treatments for breast cancer. His work could lead to more effective immunotherapy-based treatments in breast cancer.

What’s next: He and his team will conduct several clinical trials aimed at identifying biomarkers and mechanisms of resistance to immunotherapy.

Immunotherapy has shown promise in treating many forms of cancer. However, it has been less effective in patients with breast cancer, and there is currently no way to identify those who could benefit from it. Dr. Mills and his colleagues have developed a series of sophisticated laboratory models that are allowing them to test several combinations of targeted and immune-based drugs that may improve response to immunotherapy and determine which breast cancer patients are most likely to respond to this approach.

Full Research Summary

Research area: Exploring the utility of immunotherapy alone and in combination with targeted therapeutics and identifying biomarkers of resistance.

Impact: 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.

Current investigation: Dr. Mills and his colleagues have developed and utilized laboratory models in studies of interactions between targeted therapy (such as PARP inhibitors) and the immune system. Their preclinical studies have identified and moved to clinical trials a novel set of biomarkers of response, mechanisms of resistance and combination therapies able to bypass resistance with marked benefit to patients.

What he’s learned so far: Dr. Mills has been able to develop 18 laboratory models that recapitulate the heterogeneity of breast cancer. The preclinical data his team has collected using these models has been used to develop a series of clinical trials indicating the great potential of these models to provide translational information about the biomarkers of response and mechanisms of resistance.

What’s next: Dr. Mills’ team will continue to utilize the laboratory models they have developed to test several immunotherapeutic approaches alone and in combination with targeted therapy. They will continue their focus on identifying biomarkers of response, mechanisms of resistance and combinations of targeted and immunotherapy that are most likely to benefit patients.


Gordon B. Mills, MD, PhD, is the Director of Precision Oncology, Director of SMMART trials, Associate Director, ad interim, for Clinical Research and holds the Wayne and Julie Drinkward Endowed Chair in Precision Oncology in the Knight Cancer Institute. In these roles, 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 will be to use serial tumor and liquid biopsies to evaluate and target adaptive responses in real time to interdict cancer evolution. The overarching goal 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. We have also implemented a comprehensive functional genomics program designed to distinguish drivers from passengers and identify their therapeutic liabilities.

Dr. Mills has published more than 1000 papers and holds more than 20 patents. Dr. Mills has served as principal investigator or project investigator on many national peer-reviewed grants including NIH/NCI SPOREs and team grants (U01 and U54), Stand Up To Cancer, Breast Cancer Research Foundation, Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation, and Komen Foundation grants. His 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 training, mentoring, and career development for young scientists including graduate students, fellows, and junior faculty. The majority of his trainees have developed successful research careers rising through the ranks to full professor, department chairs, and institute directors. Based on this role, he has been nominated for and awarded multiple mentoring awards, including the Stand Up 2 Cancer Laura Ziskin Prize for Mentoring and the inaugural Waun Ki Hong award for mentorship. At the Knight Cancer Institute, Dr. Mills will take a major role in the mentoring, support and career develop for young scientists and in particular physician scientists.

Grid Researcher Headshot - Mills G

BCRF Investigator Since


Donor Recognition

The Ulta Beauty Award

Area(s) of Focus