Gene therapy pioneer John Zaia, M.D., named director of the Center for Gene Therapy

June 17, 2015
Physician/scientist will head one of six centers in new hematologic malignancies institute
DUARTE, Calif. — Gene therapy pioneer John A. Zaia, M.D., has been named director of the Center for Gene Therapy within City of Hope’s new Hematologic Malignancies and Stem Cell Transplantation Institute. Internationally known and respected for his groundbreaking research into potential gene therapy treatments for HIV, Zaia will maximize the potential of gene therapy not just for HIV, but also for cancer and other diseases as City of Hope expands its commitment to this revolutionary field of research.

Zaia, the Aaron D. and Edith Miller Chair in Gene Therapy, and past chair of the Department of Virology, is also the principal investigator of the new Alpha Clinic for Cell Therapy and Innovation (ACT-I) at City of Hope. The clinic is dedicated to identifying new stem cell cures for currently incurable diseases, and to helping those cures become a standard option for patients who need them.

Among the treatments tested in the clinic will be immunotherapy approaches developed in the hematologic institute using gene therapy. As director of the center, and as principal investigator of the clinic, Zaia will bridge the current gap between the promise and the reality of stem cell treatments, speeding lifesaving treatments to the patients who need them.

“When it comes to gene therapy, John has been both a visionary and a teacher,” said Stephen J. Forman, M.D., the director of the new hematologic institute, as well as the Francis and Kathleen McNamara Distinguished Chair in Hematology and Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation. His leadership will be vital in helping doctors and researchers maximize the potential of gene therapy as a source of treatments. His leadership will be vital in helping us save lives.”

A specialist in gene transfer as HIV-related therapy, Zaia has focused on two potential avenues for fighting AIDS. One involves genetic modification of blood stem cells as a way to create resistance to the virus that causes AIDS; the other involves genetic modification of stem cell genes so that they prevent replication of the virus. Both are considered important avenues of research that could ultimately lead to defeat of HIV.

“City of Hope has made an important commitment to exploring the potential of gene therapy, and I’m proud to lead the effort as a leader of the gene therapy center within the Hematologic Malignancies and Stem Cell Transplantation Institute,” Zaia said. “The researchers and clinicians at City of Hope have both the potential and the determination to change the course of HIV, cancer and other life-threatening diseases, and I’m looking forward to working with them to develop new gene therapy options.”
Zaia has served as chair of the Department of Virology since 1999, having joined City of Hope in 1980 as director of Virology and Infectious Diseases within the Department of Pediatrics. Prior to that, he was an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School and a clinical associate at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

He has had fellowships in infectious disease at Beth Israel Hospital and Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Boston, and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. He also served as senior assistant surgeon for the United States Public Health Service. He received his medical degree from Harvard University and his undergraduate degree from Holy Cross College. 

Zaia holds almost a dozen patents and has published more than 180 papers.

Tami Dennis
About City of Hope
City of Hope is an independent research and treatment center for cancer, diabetes and other life-threatening diseases. Designated as a comprehensive cancer center, the highest recognition bestowed by the National Cancer Institute, City of Hope is also a founding member of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, with research and treatment protocols that advance care throughout the nation. City of Hope’s main hospital is located in Duarte, California, just northeast of Los Angeles, with clinics in Southern California. It is ranked as one of "America's Best Hospitals" in cancer by U.S. News & World Report. Founded in 1913, City of Hope is a pioneer in the fields of bone marrow transplantation and genetics.