Timothy Heffernan, Ph.D.
About Dr. Heffernan
Tim is a cancer biologist and translational researcher who has a passion for identifying innovative solutions to complex problems. He aims to address the challenges in oncology drug discovery and development through patient-centered research that integrates the best of academic, industrial and clinical science.
Fighting Cancer: It's Personal
What’s your Moon Shots focus?
TRACTION is an industrialized translational research unit within MD Anderson Cancer Center, and our focus is simple: our patients. Our function within the Moon Shots program is to accelerate the discovery and development of innovative therapeutic concepts and to translate these insights for clinical benefit. This ambitious goal is enabled through collaborations across Moon Shots disease sites and other enabling platforms.
What makes your fight against cancer personal?
Unfortunately, everyone has a personal connection to this disease, and I’m not unique in this regard. I witnessed first-hand the incredible toll that this disease has on a patient and their loved ones. These experiences have had a significant impact on my work and my development into an independent cancer scientist. Indeed, I’ve spent the majority of my professional career working within academic cancer centers. These experiences have afforded me the opportunity to learn from our patients, their disease and their treatment experience, and they motivate my work to innovate and advance novel cancer therapies.
What motivates and excites you?
I’m motivated by our patients, who in spite of facing one of the biggest challenges of their lives, display tremendous resiliency. Their courage and willingness to participate and support cancer research is inspiring to me, and each one of their contributions undoubtedly enhances our ability to deliver the next major breakthrough in cancer medicine. It is a privilege to work at MD Anderson, where our proximity affords us the opportunity to interact with and serve the needs of our patients and their physicians who are committed to research-driven patient care.
What makes the Moon Shots Program stand out?
I think there are two critical differentiating factors. First is the unprecedented approach to multidisciplinary science, where integrated teams representing basic, translational and clinical research work together to drive innovation and impact. Second is the management and focus of the Moon Shots program, where the ultimate metric of success is near-term clinical impact. This requires not only the resources and capabilities to enable “high risk – high reward” science, but also the management and institution-wide commitment to rigorously prioritize projects that have the highest probability of success.
What do you hope to accomplish?
Our ultimate goal is to innovate novel, effective and durable treatment strategies for EVERY patient that enters the MD Anderson clinic. This ambitious goal requires collaboration with Moon Shots disease site teams and an internal investment in cutting edge translational research. By providing resources, expertise and innovative capabilities, TRACTION aims to enable translational research and accelerate the pace of drug discovery and development.
Is there anything else you want people to know about you and your work?
I’m incredibly proud to lead the TRACTION platform. We’ve recruited a dynamic team of academic- and industry-trained scientists who pursue a singular goal to Make Cancer History. We appreciate and recognize the investment that the Moon Shots program has made in the evolution of the TRACTION platform and work with an acute sense of urgency and responsibility to enable the Moon Shots vision. Together with the world-leading team at MD Anderson, we are working to reimagine the standard of care for this disease.