Titles and Affiliations

Professor of Clinical Medicine
Director, Center for Novel Therapeutics
Evelyn & Edwin Tasch Chair in Cancer Research
University of California
San Diego, California

Research area

Understanding the dynamics of cancer stem cells to generate new therapies for metastatic breast cancer. 


Over 40,000 women in the United States die each year of metastatic breast cancer— when breast cancer spreads to other parts of the body—and new treatments are urgently needed. The development of effective therapies requires a comprehensive understanding of breast cancer biology, e.g., how tumors develop and change over time in response to therapies. Drs. Kipps, Parker, and their teams focus on the role of cancer stem cells (CSCs), which are cells that can regenerate tumors and may be responsible for metastasis, drug resistance, and recurrence. Ultimately, they want to develop personalized therapeutic strategies according to the stem-cell makeup of a patient’s tumor and are conducting studies to understand the dynamics of CSCs in breast cancer—how many tumors have them, in what proportion, and how CSC populations change with stressors like therapy.

Progress Thus Far

To identify and target breast cancer stem cells, the teams identified a protein on the cell surface, called ROR1. This protein is present in embryos (which contain stem cells), but not in adult tissues, and it is generated by breast cancer cells with CSC features. Their research established that ROR1 correlates with aggressive breast cancer and the development of metastases. Drs. Kipps and Parker subsequently created a therapy that targets ROR1, an antibody called cirmtuzumab, that is now being tested in clinical trials. At the same time, the teams are developing laboratory models to mimic human breast cancers, to study CSCs and continue improving upon CSC-targeting therapies like ROR1.

What’s next

In the coming year, they will study what types of breast cancer cells express stem cell markers and how these cells differ between a patient tumor and a patient-derived laboratory tumor model. Additionally, they wish to understand the variation or heterogeneity of breast cancer cells in different tumors, different subtypes of breast cancer, and different patients. Their novel model systems will allow the teams to test new therapies more effectively for different subtypes of breast cancer.


Thomas Kipps, MD, PhD, is Professor of Medicine, Evelyn and Edwin Tasch Chair in Cancer Research, and Deputy Director of Research Operations at the UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center. He received his MD and PhD in Immunology from Harvard University and completed his residency and fellowship training in Internal Medicine, Hematology, and Genetics at Stanford University.

Dr. Kipps is internationally renown for his translational research on immunologic approaches for the treatment of cancer and understanding the biologic mechanisms that contribute to cancer, in particular chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Dr. Kipps has over 25 years’ experience in combining research and clinical care responsibilities. As deputy director of research operations, he is working to integrate basic and translational research at the Moores Cancer Center with basic and translational scientists, clinical investigators, epidemiologists, and physicians, who offer state-of-the art therapies for patients with various forms of cancer. Dr. Kipps directs the multi-institutional, NIH-sponsored CLL Research Consortium (CRC) and directs a Specialized Center of Research in Leukemia supported by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

In addition, he is a two-time awardee of the NIH MERIT Award. He also is the principal investigator for a Disease Team III project sponsored by California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, in which he developed a humanized anti-ROR1 monoclonal antibody (mAb), designated UC-961 (or cirmtuzumab), for which he now holds the IND with which to conduct clinical trials examining the safety and efficacy of this mAb in the treatment of patients with cancer.

BCRF Investigator Since


Areas of Focus