IFOM Pier Paolo Di Fiore

Pier Paolo Di Fiore

Pier Paolo Di Fiore, a physician and specialist in molecular oncology and cell biology, directs the Cellular Logistics in Cancer research unit at IFOM.

Born in 1958 in Naples, Di Fiore studied medicine at the University of Naples and, even before the age of twenty, began spending time in the laboratories of the Institute of General Pathology.

Di Fiore has always been convinced that we need to understand biological processes if we are to successfully address important medical problems - this belief drew him towards basic research guided by specific medical questions, rather than towards the patients themsleves.

Di Fiore graduated in 1981 and then received his specialization in Oncology in 1984 from the University of Naples, where he went on to earn his Ph.D. in Cellular and Molecular Biology and Pathology.

He then moved to the US National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, where he built his scientific career, reaching the level of Section Chief.

He remained in America for 11 years, from 1984 to 1995. These years of research on the mechanisms of malignant transformation produced significant scientific results, such as those regarding the HER2/Erbb2 gene.

Di Fiore demonstrated that overexpression transforms the Erbb2 gene into an oncogene, a gene capable of inducing cancer.

Overexpression of Erbb2 occurs in about 20% of breast cancers and this discovery by Di Fiore at the end of the 80s was the first step on a journey of discovery - later taken by many - that marks the history of this form of cancer. Today, one of the diagnostic tests used to distinguish between different forms of breast cancer is based on the abnormal expression of this gene. In addition, the development of targeted therapies directed against the Erbb2 protein have changed the treatment prospects for tumors characterized by Erbb2 overexpression.

By the 90s Di Fiore was convinced that his research career would continue in the US.

However, a very interesting proposal was developing in Italy. The European Institute of Oncology project was taking shape in Milan. The mission of this new cancer center was to integrate research and clinical excellence in the fight against cancer.

In 1995, Di Fiore returned to Italy to contribute to the development of its Department of Experimental Oncology.

In the late 90s, as part of the IEO, he participated in the establishment of IFOM; in 2001, FIRC asked him to coordinate, not only his own research, which gave rise to the Cellular Logistics in Cancer program, but also the entire scientific activity of the new institute.

Alongside his scientific pathway, his academic career led him to the position of full Professor of General Pathology at the University of Milan in 2000.

In 2009, Di Fiore left the directorship of IFOM to devote himself full-time to research, with a specific goal: to connect his work to the clinical needs of patients, by establishing a molecular medicine program at IEO which operates in parallel to his basic research program IFOM. The new program was inaugurated in 2010. It aims to translate the knowledge gained through basic oncology research into concrete tools applicable to clinical practice.

Numerous international prizes and awards have been conferred on Di Fiore in the course of his career, and with more than 200 publications to his name published in the most prestigious international journals, including Nature, Science and Cell - including not only scientific articles, but also articles on the philosophy of science and bioethics - Di Fiore is one of the most productive and highly cited Italian researchers.