Steven J. O’Day, MD: A Homecoming for a Renowned Medical Oncologist

December 21, 2015

You might say that the career of Steven J. O’Day, MD, has come full circle. The board-certified medical oncologist and preeminent melanoma specialist was recruited to the John Wayne Cancer Institute (JWCI) from the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston in 1994. He left JWCI a few years later and practiced at The Angeles Clinic and Research Institute in Los Angeles, although he remained affiliated with JWCI.

Much to the delight of the John Wayne Cancer Institute staff and his patients, Dr. O’Day is back full time. He rejoined the faculty in May as professor of medical oncology. In his new role, he will help expand the Institute’s programs in melanoma and immunotherapy.

“The John Wayne has a huge legacy of surgical expertise with the tremendous career and personality of Dr. Don Morton,” Dr. O’Day says. “So my goal in coming back full time is to build on that. The field of cancer has moved from surgical to medical management in more areas. The revolution that is really transforming cancer over the last five years is the immune therapy approach.”

In Dr. O’Day, the Institute has found a leading authority in the rapidly evolving field of cancer immunotherapy. Dr. O’Day played a leadership role in the development of the immune checkpoint inhibitor ipilimumab and presented the breakthrough ipilimumab clinical trial results at a 2010 meeting of the prestigious American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). He was a clinical investigator in the development of the anti-PD1 antibodies pembrolizamab and nivolumab as well as the development of the MAPK inhibitors vemurafinib, dabrafinib and trametinib.

Dr. O’Day has been a principal investigator on more than 100 clinical trials and has published more than 200 manuscripts, abstracts and reviews in prestigious journals such as The New England Journal of Medicine and Journal of American Medical Association. Dr. O’Day has served on several important ASCO committees.

“We have two new ways of approaching melanoma: directly attacking the melanoma cells with new molecular therapies, and immune therapies,” he says. “My passion has been to help develop these medical treatments for melanoma. The progress is tremendous. We now have patients with widespread melanoma who traditionally would have had about six months to live. Now almost half of these patients are being cured or have long-term survival.”

Dr. O’Day will bring his experience with these newer therapies to the Institute and will help recruit medical oncologists with experience in other types of cancer.

“This is a jewel of an institute,” Dr. O’Day says. “I have such affection for Don Morton, and it’s my mission to see that this Institute grows and expands so his legacy continues.”

During his free time, Dr. O’Day enjoys his time with his wife, Carol, and two children: Emily, 22, and John, 20. He’s never regretted the move to the West Coast from Boston, relishing the opportunities to enjoy music, theater and film in Los Angeles. He even devotes some time to playing the piano and writing music. “It’s a huge source of relaxation and enjoyment for me to just go sit at the piano.”