Posted on: February 16, 2021
Michael J. Weber, PhD, passed away peacefully at home with his family on Thursday, February 11, 2021, following a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 78. Known for his wry sense of humor, clever aphorisms, and generosity, he was a beloved husband, father, and grandfather, as well as a valued colleague, leader, and mentor at the University of Virginia.
A graduate of Bronx High School of Science, Haverford College, and the University of California San Diego, Michael was the Director Emeritus of the University of Virginia Cancer Center and the Weaver Professor of Microbiology, Immunology and Cancer Biology in the School of Medicine. His research focused on understanding cancer cell signaling as a target for cancer therapy. Michael, with his colleagues Tom Sturgill and Tony Rossomando, were co-discoverers of Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase (MAP kinase), a cellular protein that is a key regulator of cell growth and an important drug target in many cancer therapies.
Michael’s familiarity with cancer was both personal and professional. Shortly after he joined the UVA faculty in 1983, his adoptive father, F. Palmer Weber, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Accompanying him through the maze of hospital corridors persuaded Michael of the need for a state-of-the-art facility for cancer care. His brother David’s death from ocular melanoma in 2004 reinforced his commitment to expanding clinical trials at UVA. He disputed the notion that research universities must prioritize either basic research or clinical medicine, arguing instead that the prevention and treatment of cancer will advance most rapidly when basic and translational research, a robust program of clinical trials, and compassionate patient care are fully integrated. He pursued these goals as Director of the UVA Cancer Center from 2000 to 2013, elevating the international reputation of the Center and spearheading the creation of the Emily Couric Clinical Cancer Center. Even after retirement, he continued to run an active lab with funding from the V Foundation. His recent work with Kallesh Jayappa contributed to the discovery of a novel drug combination therapy for patients with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia and Mantle Cell Lymphoma.
Michael’s character was shaped by his parents’ lifelong commitment to social justice and the arts, the Quaker ethos of Haverford College, and his belief that a mensch is someone who steps up to the plate. A formidable opponent in any debate, he was nevertheless a good listener, and one felt smarter after conversing with him. Although raised in New York City, he had a deep appreciation for the rural beauty of Albemarle County and was dedicated to preserving his family’s historic farm in the Ivy valley.
He is survived by his beloved wife of 53 years, Alison Weber; sons, Aaron and Joel Weber; daughters-in-law, Megan Sullivan and Claire Weber; and granddaughter, Adeline Weber.
The UVA Cancer Center is establishing an annual scientific symposium to honor Michael’s life and achievements. The Michael J. Weber Symposium will invite world-renowned scientists and clinicians to the University to present their findings and exchange ideas to advance cancer research. The family asks, in lieu of flowers, that memorial donations be made to the UVA Cancer Center. Gifts can be directed to support the symposium.