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Making a Mark in Lung Cancer: An Interview With Roy S. Herbst, MD, PhD

Beth Fand Incollingo @fandincollingo
Published: Tuesday, Oct 04, 2011
Roy S. Herbst, MD, PhD
Roy S. Herbst, MD, PhD
When Roy S. Herbst, MD, PhD, looks back on his college days, he does not linger over memories of late-night parties or fraternity pranks.
It is thoughts of the labs where he worked, of mice studies and gene detection, that prompt the oncologist to reminisce.

Those years at Yale University allowed Herbst to explore his curiosity about research and medicine, discover what inspired him, and start defining the path his career would take. Twenty-seven years after completing a combined undergraduate and master’s program there, graduating Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude, Herbst has brought the fruits of that experience back to his alma mater.

The physician and translational researcher, whose work in developing novel, personalized therapies for lung cancer has helped drive significant changes in the way the disease is treated, has returned to his old stomping grounds to lead the section of medical oncology at Yale Cancer Center and Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven, Connecticut. His mission there is to build a clinical trial infrastructure that will allow Yale to delve further into the study of early drugs and the mechanisms of cancer.

In March, Herbst left a post at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston to return to Yale, where he also has been named a professor at the School of Medicine.

“I was enamored by the possibility of taking what I knew—translational cancer research, combination therapies, biomarker and surrogate assays, and understanding how to make the clinical trial a scientific endeavor—and doing it at a place that has a tradition of scientific discovery, yet not in the realm of clinical trials,” said Herbst, 48.

“I’m intrigued to be leading not just lung cancer research, but the entire solid tumor area. And it’s cool to be a professor at the residential college where I was an undergrad, to work with students and inspire them as my professors did me. I love the academic environment at Yale, and I will be an undergraduate advisor this fall,” he said.

Roy S. Herbst

Roy S. Herbst, MD, PhD, At a Glance

  • Is married and has a 6-year-old daughter
  • When he isn’t working, likes to work out and travel
  • Is the son of 2 first-generation Americans
  • Was shy as a teenager and only later, after working with some of his role models, became comfortable interacting with scientists and patients
  • Cites The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee, as his favorite book (Find out more >>> Interview With Siddhartha Mukherjee, Author of The Emperor of All Maladies)
  • In thinking about the fight against cancer, often reflects on a quote from Winston Churchill: “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
  • Is a consultant to companies including Bayer, Eli Lilly and Company, Pfizer Inc, and AstraZeneca
  • Volunteers on committees and forums for the Institute of Medicine and the American Association for Cancer Research, whose Tobacco Task Force he chairs. Through smoking cessation efforts, Herbst believes, “I can help more people than I can by treating patients with advanced lung cancer.”
  • Has done charitable work for his synagogue and for Aishel House, a Texas nonprofit that provides patients and their families with transportation, meals, accommodations, childcare, and counseling when they are away from home for medical care.
  • Has authored more than 200 peer-reviewed papers
  • Received awards for excellence at every level of his education, including an award for Distinction in Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry from Yale University and the Dean’s Research Prize from Cornell Medical College. More recent awards have included the David Ben-Gurion Leadership Award and the Irwin H. Krakoff Award for Excellence in Clinical Research, given by MD Anderson
  • Believes that philanthropic funding of cancer research is more important than ever in the face of government budget constraints, and hopes that funders will not overlook hypothesis-based clinical trial research, which can be difficult to quantitate but can lead to the discovery of new molecules or targets

Playing Key Role in BATTLE Trial

Herbst is uniquely prepared for the challenges and opportunities he is taking on as Yale Cancer Center’s chief of medical oncology and associate director for translational research. For the past 14 years, he served as a lab head, clinical researcher, professor, and physician at MD Anderson, making his mark in the area of translational research aimed at finding new and better treatments for metastatic disease—particularly non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).


View Conference Coverage
Online CME Activities
TitleExpiration DateCME Credits
Community Practice Connections™: 18th Annual International Lung Cancer Congress®Oct 31, 20181.5
Clinical Interchange™: Translating Research to Inform Changing Paradigms: Assessment of Emerging Immuno-Oncology Strategies and Combinations across Lung, Head and Neck, and Bladder CancersOct 31, 20182.0
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