Women's History Month Stories

Jill O’Donnell-Tormey, PhD

CRI Chief Executive Officer and Director of Scientific Affairs

Jill O’Donnell-Tormey, PhD, is the Chief Executive Officer and Director of Scientific Affairs at CRI. During her tenure, Dr. O’Donnell-Tormey has spearheaded the creation of catalytic and novel research programs that span laboratories and clinics, fostering over $500 million in funding. Thanks to Dr. O’Donnell-Tormey’s leadership, CRI is pushing the boundaries of cancer immunotherapy research to help create a world immune to cancer.

Why did you pursue a career in science? 

My interest in science bubbled up early. I remember being in first grade and my teacher asked the class to line up for a trip to what I thought was a laboratory. I was extremely excited about this possibility and I was quite disappointed when we ended up in the lavatory. My childhood playdates often found me taking my friends to the basement to play with my chemistry set and microscope.  

I went on to get a degree in chemistry but was always interested in the biology of disease. While getting a PhD in Cell Biology, my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, so my concentration veered to a focus on cancer. I was introduced to immunology as a postdoc in Dr. Carl Nathan’s lab at The Rockefeller University. The idea of harnessing the power of the immune system to treat and control cancer piqued my interest during my fellowship and was certainly reinforced when I joined the Cancer Research Institute, where I had the privilege of being mentored by former CRI Medical Director Dr. Lloyd Old. His belief in and passion for cancer immunotherapy became mine. 

Who is a mentor that you admire and why?

I must credit Dr. Old for teaching me so much about science, leadership, loyalty, and relationships. His wise counsel prepared me well to lead CRI.  I would also be remiss if I did not mention the influence that the late CRI co-founder Helen Coley Nauts has also had on me. With her passion, persistence, fearlessness, and candor she was a remarkable role model.  Without her there would be no CRI. That is a pretty powerful legacy and one that I could only hope to emulate. 

What are you most proud of in your career?

Since almost all of my career has been at CRI, I am proud of being part of a prescient and science-driven organization that has helped usher in life saving immunotherapies for patients. 

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