Luminary Awards in GI Cancers Honor Distinguished Leaders

Five leaders in the fight against gastrointestinal cancers from academia, the community, and clinic were honored at the 2018 Luminary Awards.

The Luminary Awards in GI Cancer winners pose with presenters and hosts following the event.

At the 2nd Annual Luminary Awards, hosted by OncLive and The Ruesch Center for the Cure of Gastrointestinal Cancers, several individuals in the cancer care community were honored for their efforts in improving the lives of patients with gastrointestinal cancers.

“Each of these recipients has made transformative strides in the lives of patients with [gastrointestinal] cancers,” said John L. Marshall, MD, director of the Ruesch Center for the Cure of Gastrointestinal Cancers at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center. “These individuals have helped propel the field of [gastrointestinal] cancer with their enduring commitment and groundbreaking contributions in treatment, research, and advocacy."

The Ruesch Center for the Cure of Gastrointestinal Cancers provides clinical research, education, advocacy, and regional and global alliances in an effort to fight gastrointestinal cancers. The center was established in 2009 by Jeanne Ruesch in honor of her late husband Otto, who lost his fight to pancreatic cancer.

“As one of only a few centers of excellence that focuses exclusively on gastrointestinal (GI) cancers, we are working on advancing science and research, changing lives and outcomes, cultivating innovators of the future, and collaborating and sharing insights,” said Marshall during the ceremony.

John S. Macdonald, MD, the senior advisor at Criterium Inc., was one of the honorees at this year's Luminary Awards. With over 400 publications, Macdonald has previously served as medical director and chief of gastrointestinal oncology at St. Vincent’s Comprehensive Center, chief of medical oncology at St. Vincent’s Hospital and Medical Center, and a professor of medicine at New York Medical College.

Macdonald has pioneered the use of chemoradiation after surgical resection of gastric cancers. This treatment regimen, aptly named the “Macdonald Regimen,” has helped turn the idea of a cure into a reality for thousands of patients with gastric cancers. This has also paved the way for the development of new treatment options for gastric cancers.

“[Macdonald] is a groundbreaking researcher, dedicated educator, and outstanding clinician,” said Sunnie Kim, MD, of the Ruesch Center for the Cure of Gastrointestinal Cancers, prior to presenting Macdonald with his award. “He has changed the lives of countless patients with some of the deadliest cancers.”

The second honoree of the night was Daniel D. Von Hoff, MD, FACP, physician-in-chief and distinguished professor at the Translational Genomics Research Institute, chief scientific officer at HonorHealth and US Oncology, and professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic. His current research efforts have focused largely on targeted therapies for the treatment of patients with pancreatic cancers.

Over his time in the oncology space, Von Hoff has played a major role in the development of new drugs for the treatment of patients with pancreatic cancer. He and his colleagues have conducted numerous clinical investigations of agents that have gone on to help countless patients with colorectal, pancreatic, breast, ovarian, and prostate cancers, as well as those with leukemia. He is constantly advocating for new technologies and treatments for patients with GI cancers.

The third honoree was Paul H. Sugarbaker, MD, FACS, FRCS, chief of the peritoneal surface malignancy program and director of the Center for Gastrointestinal Malignancies at Medstar Washington Hospital Center. His work has been published in over 900 publications.

Sugarbaker developed and perfected a surgical procedure that combines cytoreduction with HIPEC. This procedure, known as the “Sugarbaker procedure,” has inspired an entirely new field in GI cancers: peritoneal surface malignancies. His work in the field as a surgical oncologist continues to impact the treatment landscape for these patients.

The fourth recipient of the night was Michael Sapienza, CEO of the Colorectal Cancer Alliance and a member of the Ruesch Center for the Cure of GI Cancer’s advisory board. After Sapienza’s mother passed in 2009 from colon cancer, he founded the Chris4Life Colon Cancer Foundation. In 2015, he merged his foundation with the Colorectal Cancer Alliance to form the largest nonprofit for colorectal cancer in the nation.

“The work that he has done in collaboration with many people in the room has transformed the world of colorectal cancer and I’m forever grateful,” Marshall said as he presented Sapienza with his award.

The final recipient of the Luminary Awards was Richard L. Schilsky, MD, FACP, FASCO, FSCT, senior vice president, chief medical officer, and former president of ASCO. His research is currently focused on new drug development for the treatment of patients with GI cancers.

Schilsky treated patients for over 30 years at the University of Chicago before leading the school’s phase I investigational drug program. Ten years ago, Schilsky became the president of ASCO, then 5 years later, he was named the first-ever chief medical officer of ASCO. Schilsky aimed to further enhance the treatment landscape for these patients from the very start of his career.

“We’ve made progress in treating GI cancers,” Schilsky said. “The median overall survival of patients with metastatic colorectal cancer 40 years ago was 8 months. Today, our most recent CALGB trial has demonstrated a median survival that was up to 30 months. That’s great progress, but not enough.”

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