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Published on June 17, 2020

Avera Welcomes Chief Medical Officer for Cancer Research

Dr John LeeAvera announces that John Lee, MD, FACS, has joined Avera Cancer Institute as Clinical Medical Officer for Cancer Research.

Lee will provide leadership and strategic direction of Avera’s cancer research program, and clinical activities for translational research, early phase trials and clinical trials in the delivery of cancer care.

“Dr. Lee will provide leadership to the Avera Cancer Institute with our goal to incorporate up-and-coming medications as treatment options for more of our patients,” said Kris Gaster, Assistant Vice President for Outpatient Cancer Clinics at the Avera Cancer Institute in Sioux Falls.

“The passion that drives me is to impact care for oncology patients in a positive manner – one that brings long-term survival in more and more cases,” Lee said.

Translational research is work that translates scientific discoveries more directly to patient care – from “bench to bedside.”

“Avera has all the infrastructure in place to expand access to cutting-edge treatments through clinical trials, along with standard of care treatment plans,” Lee said. “Examples include its tremendous work with precision oncology and participation in a large number of clinical trials.”

“Dr. Lee’s work will be a cohesive part of what we’ve always done at Avera while opening doors to more treatment options for our patients,” Gaster said.

Cancer immunotherapy, which builds on the body’s natural immune response to recognize and remove cancer cells, is a priority for Lee. “Our bodies were designed to be able to fight off cancer. Cancer figures out a way to get around the immune system, hide from it or reprogram it,” Lee said. Immunotherapy helps the immune system in various ways, such as blocking the immune system’s checkpoints to allow it to respond more strongly to cancer, or using immune cell therapy to selectively target cancer cells so they are more visible to the immune system.

Since 2016, Lee has been Chief Medical Officer for ImmunityBio, an immunotherapy company, and Senior Vice President of Clinical Development for NantKwest, a clinical-stage natural killer cell immunotherapy company. In this role he was responsible for all pre-clinical and clinical development from basic research to FDA application for all investigational products. He helped invent over 20 new patents and led in the professional licensing of three new pharmaceutical products.

Earlier in his career, Lee was a head and neck surgeon and ear, nose and throat specialist and was involved in medical leadership for clinical trials in cancer care. He has held teaching positions for the University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine and Carver College of Medicine at the University of Iowa. He has been a lead author and contributing author of numerous medical journal articles.

“We are thrilled to welcome Dr. Lee. He is an extremely qualified and experienced cancer research expert with a compassionate heart to find new avenues of hope for cancer patients and their families,” Gaster said.

“Avera is a missional organization and I’m glad to join that mission as it relates to cancer care. Avera is poised to become well known and sought after for its cancer services for the region and nation. I look forward to being part of this exciting ‘new day,’” Lee added.



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