Skip to main content

Professor Joseph Trapani

Home  >  Professor Joseph Trapani

Scientific Advisory Committee Member

Professor Joseph Trapani

Scientific Advisory Committee Member

Professor Joseph Trapani



Head, Cancer Cell Death Laboratory; Program Head, Cancer Immunology; Director, Centre for Cancer Immunotherapy

Joe Trapani is Head of the Cancer Immunology Program at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre Melbourne, and until recently was Peter Mac’s Executive Director Cancer Research (2009-2018) and Inaugural Head of the Sir Peter MacCallum Department of Oncology at The University of Melbourne (UoM, 2012-18). In 2018, he was appointed Director of the new Centre for Cancer Immunotherapy for Peter Mac and the VCCC Alliance partners. Joe has led the Immunology Program since its inception at Peter Mac in 2000.

Joe’s research interests include the immunopathology of viral and auto-immune diseases, apoptosis induction by cytotoxic lymphocytes and cancer immunotherapy. He has authored more than 370 research papers, reviews, patents and book chapters ( over 36,000 cites, H-index 99, Google Scholar). Joe Trapani is a past member and Deputy Chair of the Executive (Board) of the Cancer Council Victoria (2007-2020) and chaired its Medical and Scientific Committee and Standing Research Sub-committee (2013-2020). Joe participates in many other peer-review bodies for State and Federal governments, and in academia and industry. He is currently a Member of the International Expert Panel for Program Grants offered by the Government of Singapore to teams of senior Singaporean scientists.

Joe Trapani received his medical degree in 1977 and his PhD in 1985 from UoM. He completed physician training in rheumatology (FRACP 1985) and received his PhD in the immunogenetics of B27-related arthropathy. Joe became interested in how the immune system defends against viruses and cancer while a post-doc at Sloan-Kettering Cancer Institute, New York. Here, he discovered a number of the genes and proteins used by killer lymphocytes to eliminate virus-infected cells. He found that one protein (perforin) forms pores in the target cell and provides access for other proteins (granzymes) to enter and trigger cell death by apoptosis. Joe’s subsequent work provided strong evidence in support of Burnet’s controversial but crucial hypothesis of ‘cancer immune surveillance’.

With his colleagues, Professor Trapani has, since 1995, been devising CAR T therapy – using gene engineering approaches to harness the power of killer lymphocytes as adoptive immunotherapy for various cancers. With colleagues, Joe Trapani carried out Australia’s first ever CAR T cell trial in acute myeloid leukaemia (2006-2010). His patent on cognate CD4 help for CAR T cells was licensed by Juno Therapeutics (now Bristol Myer Squibb) in 2016, and led to significant commercial and clinical trials outcomes still ongoing at Peter Mac and benefiting the cancer community.

Joe’s team has further identified a rare group of children with inherited defects of perforin and shown that they more frequently develop leukaemia. His work as Director of the Centre for Cancer Immunotherapy since 2018 has led to outstanding collaborative outcomes with several member institutions of the VCCC Alliance and spawned collaborative initiatives addressing unmet clinical need in poor outcome children’s cancers, melanoma, and cancers of the head and neck, prostate and breast.

In a return to his ‘roots’ in rheumatology and auto-immunity, Joe has over the past several years developed small molecule inhibitors of perforin, a pore-forming toxin critical for the cytotoxic function of ‘killer’ T lymphocytes and natural killer (NK) cells. This project, which has produced multiple international patents and is now close to human clinical trial in a variety of indications, has been a long term collaboration with the drug discovery team at the University of Auckland, originally with Professor Bill Denny and more recently with Dr Julie Spicer.

Joe Trapani has been inducted into two prestigious learned societies: Fellow of Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences (FAHMS, 2015) and FAA (2018) and received a special honour as Fellow in Science of the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia – FFSc(RCPA), 2011.

In 2024, Joe Trapani was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for his contributions to medical research, cancer immunotherapy and his service to the Australian community.