Mourning the Loss of Dr. Oliver 'Ollie' Press

Published: Sunday, Oct 08, 2017

Oliver Press, MD
Oliver "Ollie" Press, MD, PhD
Oliver "Ollie" Press, MD, PhD, a blood cancer physician who made foundational contributions to the development of targeted cancer therapies, died Friday of complications from glioma, a brain cancer. He was 65.

Press had an international reputation as a scientist and oncologist specializing in blood cancers, especially lymphoma. He was best known for his impact on the development of radioimmunotherapies, which direct high-powered radiation straight to tumors using cancer-targeting antibodies. He held a variety of leadership roles in his field and was known for his dedicated mentorship of younger investigators. His scientific impact spans the research spectrum, from fundamental science to large-scale clinical trials.

“Ollie was an extraordinary physician-scientist and leader of [Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s] Clinical Research Division [from 2013-2016]. He was an early pioneer in the use of monoclonal antibodies to target radionuclides to tumors, always keeping the immediate needs of cancer patients foremost in his translational science,” said Dr. Gary Gilliland, president and director of Fred Hutch. “Perhaps most importantly, he was a truly remarkable mentor — his legacy and his work will live on through his many trainees. He will be dearly missed but will remain an inspiration and role model to us all.”

Press was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2015. At the time of his death, he held the first David and Patricia Giuliani/Oliver Press Endowed Chair in Cancer Research at Fred Hutch and had been a faculty member in the Clinical Research Division since 1986. He also held the Hutch's Dr. Penny E. Petersen Memorial Chair for Lymphoma Research from 2001 to 2016. He maintained a joint appointment at the University of Washington, where he was a professor of medicine and adjunct professor of bioengineering.

“I think his impact is extraordinary. His impact is in science, in clinical care and in education,” said UW Medicine CEO Dr. Paul Ramsey in a previously unpublished interview with Fred Hutch News Service, several months before Press’ death. Ramsey, who had known Press for decades, praised his former mentee for his “commitment to excellence and commitment to service,” his integrity, work ethic, inquisitiveness and leadership.

“In everything he does, he shows he’s a leader by being a role model: He does the work as well as leads the work,” Ramsey said.

Among Press’ national leadership roles, he chaired the Scientific Advisory Board for the Lymphoma Research Foundation and co-chaired the National Cancer Institute’s Lymphoma Steering Committee, which guides the design of national clinical trials for lymphoma, many of which he led. Appointed acting senior vice president and acting director of the Hutch’s largest research division in 2013, Press continued to serve in this role for more than three years, throughout his treatment for cancer, until a permanent new leader, Dr. Nancy E. Davidson, took the helm Dec. 1, 2016.

“I had never met Ollie before I came to Seattle. From the moment I met him it was immediately apparent that Ollie was everything that one could hope for — a highly skilled and caring physician, an innovative and visionary cancer researcher, a talented administrative leader and an exceptional mentor for so many — including me as a newcomer,” said Davidson, senior vice president and director of the Hutch’s Clinical Research Division, director of medical oncology at UW Medicine and executive director and president of Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, where Press treated patients. “I am fortunate indeed to follow in his footsteps at Fred Hutch, UW and SCCA as we work toward a world without cancer. He will be sorely missed by his many patients and all members of the SCCA.”

Press is survived by numerous family members, including his wife of 38 years, Nancy Press, who collaborated with him behind the scenes on his research since the earliest years of their marriage, doing everything from flushing marrow from mouse bones to editing grant applications and, since 2006, serving in an official capacity as his lab’s research administrator.

“My wife deserves at least half of the credit for staying with me and dealing with my fanaticism,” Press told Fred Hutch News Service earlier this year.

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