Joseph V. Simone, MD, a pioneering clinical investigator and institutional leader in pediatric oncology who was recognized with a 2017 Giants of Cancer Care® award, died January 21 at the age of 85.
Joseph V. Simone, MD, a pioneering clinical investigator and institutional leader in pediatric oncology who was recognized with a 2017 Giants of Cancer Care® award, died January 21, 2021, at the age of 85, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).1
During a career that spanned more than 60 years, Simone is best known for his role in research efforts that resulted in the first curative combination therapy for children with acute lymphoid leukemia. As an administrator, he helped craft policies and protocols that enhanced care throughout the oncology field, including developing the initial concept for ASCO’s Quality Oncology Practice Initiative.2
A native of Chicago, Illinois, Simone began his career in internal medicine before developing an interest in hematologic diseases. In 1967, he left Chicago to take a job at the recently opened St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was associate director for clinical research before serving as the director and CEO from 1983 to 1992. In 1983, under Simone’s leadership, the hospital was designated as the first and only National Cancer Institute cancer center dedicated entirely to children.
Simone helped shape the groundbreaking Total V clinical trial, which raised survival rates for pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia from 4% to 50%. James R. Downing, MD, St Jude Children’s Research Hospital president and CEO, credited Simone with establishing the hospital’s HIV/AIDS clinical program and praised him as an extraordinary leader who elevated St Jude’s basic science programs “to unprecedented heights.”
“Our hospital—in truth, the world—owes a great debt of gratitude to Dr Simone for his many accomplishments,” Downing said in a statement. “Dr Simone was a visionary and a world-class clinician, and most importantly, a man of principle. We extend our deepest sympathies to his family, friends and colleagues.”
His success in building St Jude as a cancer center had institutions knocking at his door. He served as physician-in-chief of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York from 1992 to 1996. From there, his career path took him to the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah, where he was the first senior clinical director, and later, to the Shands Cancer Center at the University of Florida.
“Dr Simone, throughout his remarkable career and in a variety of leadership roles, modeled integrity, empathy, and caring,” ASCO CEO Clifford A. Hudis, MD, FACP, FASCO, said in an article posted on the organization’s website. “Among many other contributions, he envisioned and laid the foundation for ASCO’s portfolio of quality programs that improve care for patients everywhere.”1
“The health care and oncology community truly lost a remarkable person,” said Mike Hennessy Jr, president and CEO of MJH Life Sciences™, which sponsors the Giants of Cancer Care® awards program. “It takes a special person to be a pediatric oncologist and he certainly was one.”
In a 2017 interview, Simone said he developed his approach to patient care by learning from seasoned physicians, including his mentor, Donald P. Pinkel, MD, the founding director and CEO of St Jude hospital, and a 2019 Giants of Cancer Care® award winner. He also said he learned by listening to the parents of children with cancer and through the experience of treating patients.
One of the biggest challenges of a pediatric oncologist, Simone said, is working with patients and their families to understand illness and outcomes. Communicating with children is particularly challenging, he noted. “We use words and concepts that the kids will understand,” Simone said. “It’s tricky, though, because you can scare them, the parents are scared—and sometimes I am scared.”
Despite the difficulties of treating children with cancer, Simone said he never regretted his decision to specialize in the field. “There is no question in my mind that my biggest impact in my career was developing treatments for childhood leukemia. Everything is dwarfed against that,” Simone said. “I think that having become a pediatric oncologist was a godsend for me.”
In addition to his leadership roles at cancer centers, Simone served as founding chair of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, president of the Association of American Cancer Institutes, and vice chair of the Pediatric Oncology Group. He also served on the boards of directors for ASCO and the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), and as chair of the National Cancer Policy Board of the Institute of Medicine.3
During his career, he has received many honors, including the Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Foundation Award from the AACR in 1979, the Distinguished Service Award for Scientific Achievement from ASCO in 2002, and the ASCO-American Cancer Society Award for significant contributions to cancer control or practice in 2010.