Molecular Pharmacology & Cancer Therapeutics

Program of Study

The Program of Molecular Pharmacology and Cancer Therapeutics offers graduate students the opportunity to study a range of topics in cancer biology and cancer therapeutics at the molecular, cellular and biochemical levels. The program is located on the campus of Roswell Park Cancer Institute (RPCI) in downtown Buffalo, New York. It is composed of 21 faculty members and has a current enrollment of 20 pre-doctoral students. As such, it constitutes the nation’s largest pharmacology graduate program devoted entirely to cancer.

Students of the Molecular Pharmacology and Cancer Therapeutics program have the opportunity to study basic research problems related to fundamental differences between normal and cancer cells, molecular mechanisms involved in the control of cell growth, cell cycle progression, and differentiation, the cellular effects of newly designed compounds and their potential as anticancer agents in experimental systems, the mode of action of currently useful anticancer drugs, the interaction of anticancer agents with the host immune system, and mechanisms by which malignant cells become resistant to anticancer agents.

The program generally requires 36 credit hours of course work consisting of core requirements in pharmacology, cancer therapeutics, oncology, and biochemistry, while allowing for specialization in such areas as molecular biology, cellular biology, and immunology. Courses are taught by faculty located at both RPCI and at the North and South Campuses of the State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo. Following the completion of the formal didactic coursework, each student must complete a written and oral preliminary examination. The format of the exam involves the preparation and defense of an NIH RO1-style grant proposal in an area of cancer research that can be within the area of the laboratory of the thesis advisor. After passing the preliminary exam in the second year of study, the student advances to Ph.D. candidacy.

By the start of the third year of study, students prepare a thesis project proposal and assemble a thesis committee led by their major advisor. Generally in the fifth year of study, after at least 32 credit hours of independent laboratory research, the student defends an original Ph.D. thesis. Degrees are awarded through the State University of New York at Buffalo, Roswell Park Graduate Division. Ph.D. graduates of the program are highly competitive for research and faculty positions at universities, biomedical research centers, and the pharmaceutical industry.

Research Facilities and Clinical Proximity

Located near downtown Buffalo, RPCI was the first center devoted exclusively to cancer research and treatment and today is one of only 45 NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers in the U.S. The Pharmacology Program is located on the 4th floor of the state-of-the-art Buffalo Life Sciences Center (BLSC) on the South side of the RPCI campus. Also known as The Center for Genetics and Pharmacology (CGP), the BLSC houses modern laboratory space with open labs, to encourage collaboration, as well as dedicated adjacent laboratory procedure rooms, modern conference rooms, common eating areas, and offices. The CGP is located adjacent to the University at Buffalo Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics, and the Hauptman Woodward Structural Biology Research Institute. Within RPCI, additional academic research programs exist: Cancer Pathology and Prevention, Cellular-Molecular Biology, Immunology, and Molecular and Cellular Biophysics and Biochemistry. Taken together, this unique mix of expertise provides a fertile academic research environment.

Currently, RPCI’s total staff on campus is approximately 3,200 with 300 clinical and research faculty members. The RPCI campus consists of 1.6 million square feet (sf) of laboratory, office, clinical and educational space. RPCI is the number one provider of cancer care in Western New York. New clinical developments include the opening of the Center for Immunotherapy with a new cGMP facility, Center for Surgical Innovation, and the Center for Personalized Medicine. In 2015, RPCI had 31,901 active patients. The primary catchment area is the Buffalo/Niagara metropolitan area (72%); the secondary catchment area includes six counties of Western New York (17%); and the tertiary catchment area, includes the rest of New York State, 44 other states and 8 foreign countries (11%). Annually, hospital admissions average 4,500 and outpatient visits number 201,000, providing ample opportunities for clinical and translational research.

The RPCI campus also maintains a sizable modern medical library and computer center. Departmental and institutional seminar series feature world-renowned internationally acclaimed scientists and clinicians, and exposes students to new developments in cancer research and treatment.

The University and the Division

SUNY at Buffalo is the largest single unit and has the most comprehensive graduate program of the four universities in the state system. It has two major campuses and numerous affiliated units in the Greater Buffalo area. These include the major campus in Amherst; the Health Sciences Center at the Main Street campus in Buffalo, which encompasses the schools of Medicine, Pharmacy, Dentistry, and Nursing; and Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo. These facilities and their faculties are readily accessible to students. A convenient subway line links RPCI to the UB Health Sciences Center.

The clinical and basic science research environment of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and the strong liaisons of the program with other units of the Institute and the Health Sciences Center provide excellent opportunities for advanced research and training in biochemical pharmacology. The Pharmacology graduate program consists of 21 senior scientists in the disciplines of cell biology, molecular biology, experimental therapeutics, molecular pharmacology, immunology, carcinogenesis, cell signaling, steroid nuclear receptor function, epigenetics, signal transduction, and mouse models of cancer. The close and frequent interactions between these groups encourage the development of new ideas and the design of collaborative studies.

Student Group

Approximately five students enter the program each year. Students in the program have diverse academic backgrounds and work experience. Students holding B.A. and B.S. degrees in chemistry, biology, and molecular biology are represented as well as students from M.D./Ph.D. programs that have completed their medical training and wish to complete a thesis.


The application deadline for fall 2017 admission has passed.  The next opportunity to apply for doctoral study at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute will be for fall 2018, and the application deadline will be January 5, 2018.

Students who wish to apply after the January 5 deadline must contact the program director before submitting an application.