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UCI clinical trials leader named ‘Giant of Cancer Care’

November 12, 2020
Dr. Susan M. O'Brien, an international reognized leukemia specialist, is associate director for clinical research at the UCI Health Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Dr. Susan M. O’Brien, named a Giant of Health Care® for her work in the research and treatment of chronic and acute leukemias, calls the award "humbling."  

Dr. Susan M. O’Brien, the UCI Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center’s associate director for clinical research, has been named a Giant of Cancer Care® for her sustained contributions in the field of leukemia. 

O’Brien was one of 15 international pioneers in cancer research and care to be honored during the Nov. 5 awards program ceremony, which was held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It is the eighth consecutive year the program has recognized the physician-scientists whose work has propelled the field of oncology across the spectrum of cancer types and created pathways for future breakthroughs. This year’s awardees bring to 113 the total number of Giants of Cancer Care honorees.

“It is fair to say that Susan is one of the top leukemia doctors in the world today,” said Dr. Hagop M. Kantarjian, chair of the leukemia department at MD Anderson Cancer Center and a 2014 recipient of the Giant award.

'Outstanding work'

“Over the years, she has done outstanding work in acute lymphocytic leukemia and chronic lymphocytic leukemia” that has led to improvements in the cure rates for both diseases, Kantarjian said.

O’Brien and fellow inductees were selected by more than 120 of the world’s preeminent oncologists for the recognition program, which was created by OncLive®, a digital information platform of medical media company MJH Life Sciences™. Nominees are considered based on their body of work, including clinical impact, significant contributions in their field and overall accomplishments.

View the "Giants of Cancer Care" ceremony ›

O’Brien, an internationally recognized leader in the research of treatments for both chronic and acute leukemias, is a pioneer of several important therapies now regarded as the standard of care for chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL).

She has served as the principal investigator for more than 40 funded clinical protocols. She led the initial clinical research into ibrutinib (Imbruvica) for patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and continues research into the Bruton tyrosine kinase inhibitor in patients with CLL and small lymphocytic lymphoma.

Award is 'humbling'

As medical director of the cancer center’s Sue and Ralph Stern Center for Cancer Clinical Trials and Research, O’Brien is a leader in the push to launch more early-phase and investigator-initiated clinical studies. She also is also a professor in the UCI School of Medicine’s Division of Hematology/Oncology.

The author of more than 900 articles in peer-reviewed journals, numerous book chapters and abstracts, she is also a past chair of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network guidelines panel on chronic myeloid leukemia.

In accepting her award, O’Brien told virtual attendees that she considered it an exceptional honor because it is voted upon by fellow cancer specialists, including past honorees such as Kantajarian, a longtime mentor. 

“To join these people is very humbling, because I consider them giants,” she said.


About UCI Health: UCI Health comprises the clinical enterprise of the University of California, Irvine. Patients can access UCI Health at primary and specialty care offices across Orange County and at its main campus, UCI Medical Center, in Orange, California. The 417-bed acute care hospital provides tertiary and quaternary care, ambulatory and specialty medical clinics, and behavioral health and rehabilitation services. UCI Medical Center is home to Orange County’s only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center and high-risk perinatal/neonatal program, as well as American College of Surgeons-verified Level I adult and Level II pediatric trauma center and regional burn center. It is the primary teaching hospital for the UCI School of Medicine. UCI Health serves a region of nearly 4 million people in Orange County, western Riverside County and southeast Los Angeles County. Follow UCI Health on Facebook and Twitter.

About the University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UCI is the youngest member of the prestigious Association of American Universities. The campus has produced three Nobel laureates and is known for its academic achievement, premier research, innovation and anteater mascot. Led by Chancellor Howard Gillman, UCI has more than 36,000 students and offers 222 degree programs. It is located in one of the world’s safest and most economically vibrant communities and is Orange County’s second-largest employer, contributing $5 billion annually to the local economy. To learn more about UCI, visit www.uci.edu.