Andre Goy, MD, MS, celebrates with cancer survivors and loved ones at Liberty State Park, New Jersey, in September.
When you can effortlessly whip up a meal for a resort crowd of 200 people, paint well enough to have your art displayed in the window of New York City’s Bergdorf Goodman, and figure skate your way to the top of a national competition, it can be hard to choose a direction in life.
Some might imagine that Andre Goy was faced with too many options.
Yet Goy knew by the time he had finished high school in Entremont, a village in the French Alps, that he wanted to be a physician. He enjoyed using his talents to lift people’s spirits, but he was driven to save their lives.
In the 35 years since, Goy, MD, MS, has accomplished that again and again. A physician who treats lymphoma patients at New Jersey’s largest cancer center, Goy, 54, is also a translational researcher widely known for his work showing the first-ever evidence of activity of bortezomib, a proteasome inhibitor, in mantle cell lymphoma (MCL).
He built on that discovery by serving as coprincipal investigator on the PINNACLE trial that led to the FDA’s 2006 approval of the compound, known by the brand name Velcade, for a defined group of patients with the aggressive form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The approval brought patients the first treatment ever indicated for relapsed or refractory MCL.
At the John Theurer Cancer Center (JTCC) at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey, where he was named chairman and director this year, Goy continues to research a wide range of novel treatment approaches for lymphoma, including immune-based and targeted therapies.
“We definitely have a greater understanding of the diversity of cancer at the molecular level,” said Goy. “Just in lymphomas, we know of more than 65 subtypes, and likely more if you take into account some of their molecular features.
“In addition, within one subtype itself, there are differences as well again at the molecular level, reflecting the heterogeneity of the disease. Some of these differences translate into differences in outcomes. Ongoing studies are looking at ways to simplify these molecular signatures, so they could potentially be used to customize therapies.
“I think it is one of the most fascinating aspects of oncology currently and one that wakes me up at night,” he said.
Filling a Prominent Role at JTCC
Goy joined JTCC in 2005, excited about his chance to help shape an up-and-coming cancer care and research program.
To bolster the institution’s ability to contribute to personalized medicine, he founded and has helped to develop a Tumor and Tissue Repository there. The samples allow researchers to “look at some of the molecular differences among patients,” the doctor said, and offer greater possibilities for collaboration with other researchers, as well as trying to define biomarkers to predict outcome or response to therapy.
In addition to developing JTCC’s fellowship program, Goy heads the center’s translational research program and its lymphoma division, which he developed, and which has grown to include 3 full-time attending doctors who see about 600 new lymphoma patients each year.
Those responsibilities add up to a busy existence for Goy. In an “ideal world” he would spend about one-third of his time seeing patients, one-third attending meetings and conducting administrative duties, and the rest overseeing his own lab and the center’s clinical research program, which typically has more than 200 studies in progress. He also squeezes in opportunities to lecture around the world.
“I wish I had more time—I run around a lot,” Goy said. “But I’m never bored, as you can see. I never feel like I’m working, and that’s really essential. You have to follow your gut and your passion into this field as well as any other field. If you don’t, you’ll never become good, because it then takes too much time and energy.”
Amid all his other commitments, Goy finds time to teach doctoral students at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, focusing on oncology, lymphoma, and personalized medicine. He also emphasizes some philosophical points that he hopes the students will carry with them into their working lives.
“I tell them to work hard, to be curious, bold, and passionate, and to learn by doing,” Goy said. “I encourage them to be supportive and respectful to the staff, because they are absolutely essential to everything we do....Bedside manners are also very critical, obviously on a purely ethical level, but they also matter for the success of our patients. If you don’t have a good relationship with your patients—if they’re scared of you—it really will affect their treatment.”