Focusing on the Goal: goals in marriage, parenting and career

by Larry & Ruth Kwak, MD, PhD

Larry & Ruth Kwak, MD, PhD

Larry & Ruth Kwak, MD, PhD

City of Hope

Date: June 24, 2016

  • Speaker: Larry & Ruth Kwak, MD, PhD
  • Source: GMMA/KAMHC 2016
  • Language: English
  • Length: 53 Minutes 22 Seconds


A new class of cancer drugs is emerging from the fundamental idea that our immune system can be harnessed to fight cancer. This is an exciting time for immunotherapy, such as cancer vaccines, which are designed to activate the immune system to fight cancer. There have now been several positive Phase III clinical trials of immunotherapies including a therapeutic vaccine for lymphoma, which is one of the earliest examples of truly personalized medicine.

What you may not be aware of are the stories behind their development. Even though you are hearing about them now, they all took a lot longer to get to this point of success. I will share with you some of the success factors over the past 20 years that were critical to overcoming the obstacles, including a focus on excellence, perseverance when the research was unpopular, seeking out wise mentors, and integrating science and faith.

Another principle that has guided me throughout my life has been the unwavering belief that upholding the family as a priority is equally important to living out a calling in medicine. My wife and I are excited to share with you our journey parenting four children as a team, helping them to discover their God-given destinies.


Cancer Center Associate Director, Translational Research & Developmental Therapeutics

Dr. Michael Friedman Professor for Translational Medicine
Director, Toni Stephenson Lymphoma Center
City of Hope National Medical Center

Larry W. Kwak, MD, PhD joined City of Hope as inaugural Cancer Center Associate Director, Translational Research & Developmental Therapeutics in April 2015.

Dr. Kwak graduated from the 6-year combined B.S.- M.D. Honors Program in Medical Education from Northwestern University Medical School in 1982 and earned his Ph.D. in tumor cell biology there in 1984. He then completed a residency in internal medicine and a fellowship in medical oncology at Stanford University Medical Center in California.

Thereafter, he served as Head of the Vaccine Biology Section, Experimental Transplantation and Immunology Branch, at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) for 12 years.  His NCI laboratory is credited with the pioneering bench-to-clinic development of a therapeutic cancer vaccine for B-cell malignancies, which was recently reported as positive in a landmark national Phase III clinical trial. This was one of three recently positive Phase III clinical trials of cancer immunotherapy.

From 2004-14 Dr. Kwak served as Chairman of the Department of Lymphoma and Myeloma and Co-Director of the Center for Cancer Immunology Research at the University of Texas, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, where he also held the Justin Distinguished Chair in Leukemia Research. As Chair, his department successfully captured extensive research support, including large team science grants.

A committed physician, scientist, and mentor, his vision is to assemble and lead research teams to integrate basic discoveries from academic laboratories with translational clinical development to first-in-human clinical trials of novel “homegrown” therapeutics, such as next generation cancer immunotherapies. He leads the future direction of City of Hope’s translational and precision medicine and “teamwork science” initiatives.

In May 2010 Dr. Kwak was named to the TIME100, one of the world’s 100 most influential people by TIME magazine, for his 20 year commitment to the science of cancer immunotherapy.

On a personal note, he was a highly involved father to three sons and one daughter.  He and his wife, Ruth, have been married for 31 years, and live in Pasadena, California. They recently authored a book on teamwork parenting, which was published in Korea.

Ruth completed her undergraduate studies at Northwestern University in 1982 and received her Master of Arts in Social Work from the University of Chicago in 1984. She worked as an adoptions counselor in both domestic and international adoptions for several years before staying home full-time to raise their four children. During the past seven years, and until their recent move to California, Ruth has worked as the Assistant Manager at the Christian Community Service Center, a non-profit ministry that serves Houston’s disadvantaged population. She has volunteered in numerous organizations, with her last being the President of the Faculty and Family Organization at MD Anderson Cancer Center

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