Historic, New CEO at American Cancer Society

Karen E. Knudsen, M.B.A., Ph.D., will become the first female chief executive officer (CEO) in the 107-year history of the American Cancer Society (ACS). She will be the first scientific and oncology researcher to serve in the top staff position in the modern era.

Knudsen also will become CEO of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), its advocacy affiliate, effective June 1. She will succeed Gary Reedy, who is retiring and has served as both organizations’ CEO since 2015.

The hiring of a female CEO signals a new era for ACS, where all of its past top leaders were men, even though its Women’s Field Army was credited for building what became the modern American Cancer Society, according to an ACS announcement.

Knudsen currently serves as executive vice president of Oncology Services and enterprise director for Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson Health in Philadelphia, one of 71 National Cancer Institute-Designated Cancer Centers recognized for its research and impact on cancer outcomes.

She is the president of the Association of American Cancer Institutes (AACI), where her platform has focused on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), and serves on the board of directors for the American Association of Cancer Research (AACR) and the board of advisors for the National Cancer Institute (NCI). She is active in committees for the American Society for Clinical Oncology, in addition to serving on other academic and for-profit advisory boards.

Knudsen holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from the George Washington University; a Ph.D. in biological sciences from the University of California San Diego; and an M.B.A. from Temple University Fox School of Business.

“Dr. Knudsen is exactly what the American Cancer Society needs right now,” John Alfonso, CPA, chairman of the ACS Board of Directors, said via a statement. “She is an accomplished researcher, innovative healthcare executive, dynamic leader of a prestigious cancer center, and true thought leader in the fight against cancer nationwide,” he said.

Knudsen expects to spend time initially listening to and learning from the American Cancer Society’s various stakeholders, but she’s also eager to work with volunteers and staff to shape the vision and deliver tangible results. “As director of the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson Health, I’ve experienced firsthand how the American Cancer Society improves the lives of cancer patients and their families through discovery, advocacy, and direct patient support,” Knudsen said.

The ACS Cancer Action Network, which advocates for evidence-based public policy change to make cancer a top nationwide priority. AACI is also an important voice in advocating for funding for cancer research and access to care, including patient access to research innovations. AACI is a member of the One Voice Against Cancer Coalition, which was founded by ACS CAN in 2000 to bring public health organizations together to advocate for greater federal investments in cancer research.

Reedy has been CEO since 2015 after serving as president of the board. He succeeded John Seffrin, who retired in 2014 after many years as CEO of ACS and its Cancer Action Network. In the most recent tax Form 990, Reedy earned total compensation of $1 million, including base compensation of about $706,000 and bonus and incentive compensation of $185,000, as well as $91,000 as CEO of the Cancer Action Network.

Headquartered in Atlanta, ACS reported total revenue of $734 million in the most recent fiscal year, which ranked No. 28 in The NonProfit Times’ 2020 NPT 100, a study of the largest nonprofits in the United States that derive at last 10% of revenue from public support.