Ralph de Vere White, the longtime director of the UC Davis comprehensive cancer center who elevated its stature nationally while expanding its campus locally, announced Tuesday he is stepping down on June 29.
Still robust and healthy-looking at 70, the urological oncologist said it’s time to turn over the reins, although he still intends to work part time on UC Davis cancer research projects. “If I can be of help to anyone else, that’s what I’ll do,” he said Tuesday.
De Vere White, an Ireland native known for his Irish brogue, said he’s proudest of the team approach he engineered over 20 years at the cancer center, bringing together researchers and clinical physicians in multiple disciplines, including biomedical engineering and veterinary schools. “The cancer center has helped change the whole perception of team science on this campus. It’s truly a one-UCD undertaking.”
Under de Vere White’s tenure, UC Davis became extensively involved in research projects to develop treatments that target specific mutations in cancer tumors, as well as immunotherapy, which uses the body’s immune system to destroy cancer cells. One of his proudest research efforts, he said, involved reducing cancer disparities, including high rates of liver cancer among Asian Americans, breast cancer deaths among American Indian women and advanced-stage colon cancer among Latinos.
De Vere White started his UC Davis career in 1984, as the chair of the urology department. After becoming the cancer center’s director in 1996, he was instrumental in getting UC Davis designated by the National Cancer Institute as a comprehensive cancer center, one of only 45 nationally. It has about 150 clinical cancer trials underway.
A “giant in the cancer world,” de Vere White also helped cancer patients regionally, Jim Knox, vice president of government relations in California for the American Cancer Society, said in an email. “It means we have access to state-of-the art cancer treatment, groundbreaking clinical trials and enhanced federal funding for research.”
Four years ago, de Vere White oversaw a $33 million expansion of UC Davis’ cancer center to accommodate more clinical research and patient treatment areas. Today, the cancer center, which is part of the UC Davis medical campus off Stockton Boulevard in Sacramento, encompasses 110,000 square feet and treats about 90,000 pediatric and adult cancer patients annually.
Julie Freischlag, UC Davis vice chancellor for human health sciences and dean of the medical school, in a statement, called de Vere White “a steadfast, inspirational and influential” director.
De Vere White, who first came to the United States for a urology residency at Duke University, said he plans to spend two months this summer in Truckee with his family, including seven grandchildren and three sons who run de Vere’s Irish Pub in Sacramento. He plans to return to the UC Davis campus in October to work part time on two research projects involving bladder and prostate cancer.
Dr. Primo Lara Jr., a UC Davis medical oncologist since 1999, will serve as interim director while a nationwide search for a permanent cancer center director is underway.