Serge Afeli, PhD, MSHA

Serge is a seasoned leader with over a decade of impactful experience, holding key positions as the Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, a tenured Associate Professor of Pharmacology, and a dynamic Healthcare Entrepreneur. His leadership extends to being a Faculty Mentor at prestigious institutions like Harvard, MIT, and Clemson University, fostering innovation and entrepreneurship. He is a strong advocate of minority causes aiming to address health disparities and other critical healthcare issues in the Black community. Serge who holds a PhD in Pharmaceutical Sciences, an Executive master’s in healthcare administration, and a Bachelor’s in Physical Sciences, is a visionary leader driving positive change.

Cecilia Zapata-Harms, MS, MHA, Strategic Advisor

Cecilia has held leadership positions in strategy, joint venture startup and program administration. Her career spans more than 30+ years in life science/biotechnology and healthcare industry. Cecilia started her tenure as a strategic planning manager at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research in the early 1990s, as Program Administrator for the Molecular Pharmacology, Clinical Research Division under the leadership of Dr. Lee Hartwell and Dr. Stephen Friend, held a Project Officer role for the National Cancer Institute. Cecilia was part of the original team that founded Rosetta Inpharmatics which eventually became a Merck division. In 1998, the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) was formed and Cecilia’s skills as a project manager and strategist were recruited to assist with the relocation of clinical staff and programs to its new facility. Cecilia held the position of Director of Strategic Development for the SCCA for two years and eventually became the Director of Affiliate Network and Strategic Outreach, holding that role for 13 years including the implementation of global health initiative at FH. In the summer of 2017, Cecilia returned to her life science and biotechnology roots at 3rdEyeBio, LLC. She is currently the CEO of Palmetto InnovaSphere, Inc.

Marvella Elizabeth Ford, PhD

Dr. Ford received her MSW, MS, PhD, and postdoctoral training at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, MI where she was awarded pre- and post-doctoral fellowships from the National Institute on Aging. Subsequently, she held faculty positions at the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, MI and Baylor College of Medicine before coming to MUSC and the Hollings Cancer Center. Her training in the social determinants of health affecting disease and its treatment has uniquely positioned her to take a leading role in tackling a distressing and incompletely understood public health problem in the state: the fact that societal differences in the population can lead to markedly different health outcomes for members of diverse racial and ethnic groups. An overarching goal of Dr. Ford’s current research is to identify and address the disparities in cancer diagnosis and treatment success due to age, race, geography and other contextual and/or socioeconomic factors. To that end, she is the leader on several projects examining behavioral and community engagement factors affecting resource utilization, access to care and clinical trial recruitment and retention of members of underserved populations in the state. Understanding of these factors in turn informs her other efforts to help design and disseminate effective strategies for enhancing patient education and decision making between underserved patients and their care providers. In her other research projects, Dr. Ford applies her public health expertise towards the definition of population-specific and innate genetic, metabolic and physiologic factors that determine cancer diagnosis, progression, and treatment outcomes, primarily in older adults. Working with Dr. David P. Turner, these latter studies include the study of a specific set of inflammatory nutritional metabolites known as advanced glycation end products (AGEs). Exploring the linkage between population-specific and differential AGE levels as a possible contributor to disparate outcomes is a focal point of the translational NIH/NCI-funded U54 Cancer Disparities Research Center (SC CADRE) co-led by Dr. Ford at MUSC and by Dr. Judith D. Salley at South Carolina State University.

John H. Stewart, IV, MD, MBA

Dr. John H. Stewart, IV, MD, MBA, is the chair of surgery at the Morehouse School of Medicine and associate dean for oncology programs.

Before he arrived at the Morehouse School of Medicine. Dr. Stewart served as the founding director of the Louisiana State University- Louisiana Children’s Medical Center Cancer Center. Under his leadership, Dr. Stewart set the overall mission, vision and direction for multidisciplinary cancer care and cancer clinical research programs for LSU Health New Orleans and LCMC Health.

Before he arrived at LSU, Dr. Stewart served as the deputy director for the University of Illinois Cancer Center and physician executive for oncology services for the University of Illinois Health System. He was also a member of the initial class of Presidential Scholars for the University of Illinois. Dr. Stewart’s previous leadership roles include serving as the chief of surgery at the Durham VAMC, vice-chair in the Wake Forest School of Medicine Department of Surgery, and associate dean for clinical research and innovation at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

Dr. Stewart received his medical degree from Howard University and completed his general surgery residency at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center. He completed fellowships in surgical oncology, tumor immunology, and molecular oncology at the National Cancer Institute. Dr. Stewart has established a national profile in education, scientific research, and cancer care delivery to underserved populations. His clinical interests are in general surgical oncology, focusing on melanoma, tumor immunotherapy, and peritoneal surface malignancies.

Dr. Stewart serves as a director for the American Board of Surgery, the chair of the American College of Surgeons Advisory Council for General Surgery, and a member of the Halsted Society Board of Directors. Best Doctors, Top Doctors, and Top Surgeons have recognized Dr. Stewart for his patient care achievements. In addition, the National Cancer Institute, Amgen, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation have funded his research efforts.

He has published over 100 manuscripts in peer-reviewed journals, including Cancer, Annals of Surgery, JAMA Surgery, the Journal of the American College of Surgeons, the Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery, the Journal of Immunotherapy, Annals of Surgical Oncology, the Journal of Surgical Research, Transplantation, Surgery, and Cancer Gene Therapy.

VK Gadi MD, PhD

Dr. Gadi, whose laboratory and clinical research has focused primarily on breast cancer, joined the Cancer Center in 2020 as Associate Director of Translational Medicine when he came to the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) after 20 years in Seattle at the University of Washington, where he did his postgraduate training, and the Fred Hutch Cancer Center.

Working closely with Cancer Center leadership, Dr. Gadi continues to lead efforts to identify and recruit novel molecular assets for clinical trials testing from both big pharmaceutical companies and smaller biotech.

Dr. Gadi’s efforts have increased national-level engagement for cooperative group studies and provided access to Cancer Center disease team leaders for clinical trial development opportunities to ensure trials are written to address the needs of diverse patient populations.

In collaboration with several groups of investigators and UIC technology transfer, Dr. Gadi also is accelerating the process of commercialization of multiple diagnostic and therapeutic intellectual properties to build a sustainable licensing revenue stream to support Cancer Center activities.

Equi Sciences is revolutionizing the world of clinical research and drug development. We are dedicated to pushing boundaries and driving innovation by embracing diversity. Recognizing the importance of inclusivity in clinical trials, we are committed to ensuring the safety, efficacy, and relevancy of medical treatments.

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