Executive: Dr. Patrick Hwu, president and CEO of Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute. Hwu, 59, is a practicing doctor at Moffitt who regularly treats patients and continues to research. According to Moffitt, he has led research and clinical efforts to better understand how tumors and the immune system work together.
His focus is on vaccines, adoptive T-cell therapies and immune resistance. In that role, the renowned cancer center says he has “helped launch the field of gene-modified T cells, publishing research on the first chimeric antigen receptor directed against cancer.”
Hwu spent 17 years at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, one of the leading cancer centers in the world, before being hired by Moffitt in 2020.
He believes immunotherapy will help dramatically reduce cancer deaths. “Immunotherapy is largely becoming standard of care for diseases, like the disease I work on, Melanoma, that starts on the skin and goes throughout the body,” he says. “Ten years ago, all of my patients, just about, with advanced melanoma would pass away within a year. Now, half of them are living long lives because we’re stimulating the body’s immune system against cancer.”
Diversion: Rock and roll. Hwu is the founder of the Moffitt rock band The ReMissions.
The band, which rehearses Thursday nights and plays gigs around the area whenever possible, is made up of a collection of mostly doctors who spend their days working with patients fighting cancer. Hwu founded the band when he first arrived at the cancer center.
Gathering around a piano for the Thursday night rehearsals, held in a science building just feet from his lab, helps relieve the stress from the work they do.
Playing in the band is not just an outlet, though. The music, whether they’re rehearsing or jamming a Journey tune on a cool pre-Thanksgiving night in Tampa, also helps them be better doctors.
“I tell you, the more we can be present and forget about the stresses of the day, that’s the whole reason to do it,” Hwu, the band’s keyboardist, says. “And it lasts. When you stimulate the right brain, the next day I'm a little more unflappable. I feel it. And we have really great participation. Everyone comes to practice. It’s just because everyone’s just loving it.”
The ReMissions is not Hwu’s first band.
Throughout his medical career, one of the first things he’s done when starting a job is look for others who wanted to jam. Whether it be Johns Hopkins, the National Cancer Institute or MD Anderson, “I’ve always formed a band, a work band is always fun.”
When Hwu got to Moffitt he fully intended to continue the tradition, announcing in a Zoom meeting he sought others to play music with. The emails began pouring in.
“So, I said, ‘alright, let’s gather around the piano,’” he says. “And I was just fortunate enough to find some incredible musicians.”
Music or medicine
Music is as much a part of Hwu’s life as medicine.
Along with keyboards, he plays the trumpet and guitar.
Hwu jokes that growing up as an Asian kid his choices were to take up either the violin or the piano. He chose the piano in elementary school.
“I’m glad I did because it was a ton of fun to play,” he says.
It was so much fun that in eighth grade Hwu announced to his parents he was going to major in music in college. His father was an immigrant from China who grew up poor. While Hwu was encouraged to play music, and to practice, playing for a living was a whole different matter.
“My father hit the roof, screaming, and I was like, ‘OK. OK. I guess I’ll be a doctor,’” Hwu says, laughing at the memory. “But I’m so glad, being a physician is so fulfilling.”
So happy together
And while Hwu's glad he followed medicine, playing music with his bandmates, he believes, makes him a better doctor. Not only does it stimulate his creativity and help release stress, but it builds camaraderie and helps them work better together.
Hwu says the right thing to do when playing is to stop and listen to the others, determining when you’re going to jump in, when you’re not and how to complement one another.
And that’s how they work together when providing cancer care.
“Music is a way to express,” Hwu says. “And I’ve always loved music. I’ve always loved it. It’s a way to emote, and to express, and to communicate. And to me, being in a band is a lot like being on a team at work…and it’s been a wonderful team, The ReMissions.”