Alumni Note: Rafael Curiel, Ph.D. ’90, ’95

Alumnus Rafael Curiel, Ph.D., has spent nearly two years as chief scientific officer at Chicago-based Xennials Therapeutics, an innovative medical research company that focuses on improving outcomes for cancer patients. He stepped into oncology research in March 2018.

“Oncology to me is still a huge unmet need. I can account for relatives as well as friends who have been stricken by cancer,” Curiel said. “It is a disease that makes no difference to economical status, race, or gender. My motivation is to try to give people hope that they can overcome the disease.”

Curiel previously spent three years as vice president of medical affairs at Celldex Therapeutics in Needham, Massachusetts, where he built the Global Medical Affairs (GMA) team and developed the GMA strategy for the Celldex oncology portfolio. He’s had key roles at other pharmaceutical companies during his 19-year career.

“In my everyday, I help design experiments—anywhere from preclinical experiments to evaluate the drugs in vitro to starting to design the potential clinical trials that will test the drug in humans,” he said.

Curiel earned his doctorate in immunology from Wright State in 1995 after previously having earned his master’s in immunology, also from Wright State, in 1990 and bachelor’s in microbiology from Louisiana State.

Curiel’s road to specializing in oncology today can be traced back to when he was a graduate student at Wright State. He focused on studying immune system responses to viruses, networking with current professor Nancy Bigley, Ph.D.

Bigley collaborated with a lab sponsored by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and assigned Howard Young, Ph.D., a noted professional in the immunology field, to head it. Curiel completed his post-doctorate work with Young, which led him to spend two years with the NCI.

“My advice to students and professionals is that you might train in one thing, but you never know where it is that you will land throughout your life,” Curiel said.