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Dr. Cleveland

Meet John Cleveland, PhD

Executive Vice President, Center Director and Chief Scientific Officer

"We are all in this for the people who we love that we've lost to this disease."

Dr. John Cleveland had been at St. Jude’s Children Research Hospital eight years when he received a desperate call from his sister. “John, you gotta help me. Dean has leukemia.”

Dr. Cleveland’s nephew, just 5 years old at the time, would be treated with the same protocols developed at St. Jude’s for children with the same type of leukemia: a treatment that saved Dean’s life.

For Dr. Cleveland, it was a resounding affirmation. “This is really why I do this work,” he remembers thinking.

Fast forward two decades to when Dr. Cleveland was working on a drug to prevent disease progression in lymphoma in mice. At the same time, his mother was battling the same type of lymphoma. With no advanced treatments available at the time, she lost her 17-year battle with the disease. “We had the drugs, I think, that would have kept her going so Mom would have been there for our daughter Joanna’s wedding.”

Watching family members fight cancer continues to drive his own fight to cure it.

“Having personally lost someone you really loved really makes you feel like, I’m going to work until the day I die trying to bring these diseases to their knees,” says Dr. Cleveland.

Now responsible for elevating Moffitt's research enterprise and reputation, Dr. Cleveland says he’s excited about the possibilities of taking the research being done into the clinic, straight to the patients needing it most.

“Here, I can actually take our findings from in the lab and give them to patients that need them and give them those years, those precious years that they would have lost,” says Dr. Cleveland. “It is really a powerful thing.”

Dr. Cleveland describes basic science as the “nuts and bolts” of cancer. “It’s basically trying to develop an encyclopedia of knowledge that explains the biology of cancer.” It’s a career he feels was his professional calling.

“I really love my job at Moffitt. It’s brought it home again how important it is to be right next to patients -- in translating your therapies that you’re developing into their care and making a difference in their lives. And not just for our patients, but for all patients across the world.”