ACGT executive leadership spotlight: Barbara Lavery.

May 08, 2024
Devin Golden

Barbara Lavery, ACGT Chief Program Officer.

Barbara Lavery joined ACGT in 2019 as chief program officer. She is responsible for programmatic initiatives, including leadership of the ACGT Academic Research Program, through which ACGT funds the most promising cancer cell and gene therapy research, and builds alliances between the ACGT Research Fellows and ACGT Scientific Advisory Council to advance new therapies from the bench to the clinic and ultimately to the patient.

Lavery also works with the ACGT Board of Directors and ACGT Alliance Partners to identify and fund critical collaborations with peer organizations and emerging biotech companies.

Prior to joining ACGT, Lavery was president of a strategic communications consulting firm for health care and biotechnology companies and the vice president of strategic alliances for Global Genes, a nonprofit patient advocacy organization working to eliminate the challenges of rare disease. Lavery has more than 25 years of experience working with or for health- and medical focused nonprofit organizations. 

What inspired you to join the ACGT team as chief program officer? 

Barbara Lavery: This is my dream job! My role at ACGT combines science and research with business development and venture philanthropy in a forward-thinking, nonprofit environment that’s dedicated to brilliant people who are finding creative new solutions to some of cancer’s toughest challenges. At ACGT, we have the opportunity to identify the therapeutic paths to curing cancer and to fund the researchers and clinicians dedicated to making that happen. My role allows me to put everything I’ve learned in my career to use in working to eliminate cancer and save patients‘ lives. 

How did your previous work in the health care and medical industries help prepare you to be chief program officer for ACGT? 

Barbara Lavery: I worked for close to 20 years running a communications agency for life sciences companies – working with biotech, medical device and pharmaceutical companies to help them explain their science and technology to investors, partners and patients. I had the opportunity to work with groundbreaking companies like Gilead, Regeneron, Chiron, Human Genome Sciences, Genentech and exciting oncology companies like Sugen, Ariad, Medarex and Seattle Genetics. I got hooked on science and biotech and the incredible progress being made in understanding disease and how to treat it. I also learned how to connect scientists with companies, patients with advocates, and investors with founders, and built a multi-disciplined network that has been very valuable in my current role at ACGT. 

How has cancer affected you personally? 

Barbara Lavery: Throughout my career in the life sciences, many of my prior employees, co workers and even myself were dealing with the onslaught of cancer within our own families. This year, I experienced a cancer diagnosis myself that thankfully was stage one and curable through surgery. My brother-in-law was diagnosed the same week and is going though chemotherapy right now. Cancer is a burden we all share and, for me, there is great motivation in connecting promising cancer research with the common experiences we all have as cancer patients and families.

What has been the most rewarding part of your experience as chief program officer for ACGT?

Barbara Lavery: The fact that science is making incredible progress building a deep understanding of cell biology, immunology, genetics and essentially how the human system works inspires me.

We can now understand our genetic complexity and engineer cells and genes to defeat cancer and other diseases.

I am inspired by the humility and commitment I encounter every day in the researchers and clinicians we work with and I believe the work being done today will continue to bring hope and better medicine to us all. This is what makes me passionate about cancer cell and gene therapy – the idea that cancer can be cured in our lifetime! 

How would you explain ACGT and its mission to people who are learning about the foundation along with cancer cell and gene therapy? 

Barbara Lavery: There are many, many cancer charities with worthy missions to meet the needs of cancer patients. However, there are not that many that were founded specifically to cure cancer. ACGT was founded to advance an entirely new approach to curing cancer by engaging the power of our immune system. We fund research that develops cell and gene therapies to find and eliminate cancer and create a cellular memory that may prevent cancer from recurring. We have successfully funded groundbreaking research that led to the approval of the first two CAR T-cell therapies that are being used today to cure certain patients with blood cancer. While the science itself is incredibly complex, our mission is simple – develop curative therapies for cancer to replace the toxic treatments of the past like chemotherapy and radiation.