Top Oncologists Honored in New Awards Program

Oncology & Biotech News, August 2013, Volume 7, Issue 8

In the mid-1970s, more than half of the patients diagnosed with cancer in the United States failed to survive five years. Today, that picture has changed dramatically.

In the mid-1970s, more than half of the patients diagnosed with cancer in the United States failed to survive five years. Today, that picture has changed dramatically. The overall five-year survival rate has reached 68%, and cancer increasingly is becoming not only a chronic disease but also one that in some tumor types might soon be considered cured.

In recognition of such remarkable progress, the Intellisphere® Oncology Specialty Group has launched a new awards program, “Giants of Cancer Care,” to honor oncology specialists whose work has helped save, prolong, or improve countless lives.

The Giants of Cancer Care awards celebrate the achievements of 12 leading researchers whose discoveries have propelled the field forward and established the building blocks for future advances. An advisory panel of eminent oncologists chose the honorees in two broad categories: “Pioneers,” who have made their mark through a large body of work, and “Innovators,” who have made significant contributions within the past 10 years.

The winners were announced during a reception at the 14th International Lung Cancer Congress, held July 25-27 in Huntington Beach, California. The congress was hosted by Physicians’ Education Resource (PER), an affiliate of MJH Associates, the parent company of Intellisphere.

The motivation to initiate the program stems from “a very personal and heartfelt place,” said Jack Lepping, vice president of Oncology at MJH Associates, during the reception.

“So many of us, like so many of you, have had cancer personally touch our lives, whether it’s a friend or a family member, a loved one close or far away, here still or gone too soon,” said Lepping. “We believe that oncology is more than a profession—it’s a calling. The people of oncology, like many of you here, work day in and day out in medical circumstances that are well beyond reasonable challenges. Yet there is a depth of drive and passion to persevere, to be the one to make the discovery that puts us one step closer to better lives, to longer lives.”

That theme of commitment was echoed by two of the honorees, who addressed the audience in Huntington Beach.

Thomas J. Lynch Jr, MD, director of the Yale Cancer Center and physician-in-chief at Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven in Connecticut, noted in a prerecorded video interview that was broadcast at the reception that the honor accorded him depends upon teamwork among scientists, specialists, and clinicians. He said such teamwork has produced an “extraordinary improvement” in the understanding of the biology of lung cancer and in anticancer strategies.

“The community that we have as lung cancer doctors, the men and women who commit themselves to ending suffering for lung cancer, is truly stunning,” said Lynch. “We never would have gotten there without people who have and share a lifetime commitment to eradicating this disease.”

Everett E. Vokes, MD, chair of the Department of Medicine and physician-in-chief at the University of Chicago in Illinois, was honored for his achievements in the treatment of head and neck cancers. Vokes also specializes in lung cancer and participated in the PER conference as a faculty member.

He, too, attributed his success to discoveries made in concert with others in the field. “I think teamwork really describes oncology,” said Vokes, who was present at the ceremony.

Vokes recognized the many advances in the understanding and treatment of head and neck cancers in the past two decades, including the characterization of disease associated with the human papillomavirus.

“I accept this in the spirit of improving the care for our patients,” said Vokes.

The cancer survival figures are reported in Cancer Statistics 2013, a presentation of the American Cancer Society, available at


Bernard Fisher, MD

University of Pittsburgh

Pioneer in the biology and treatment of breast cancer

  • Widely credited with bringing clinical trials and statistical methodology to breast cancer research. Those efforts led to the elimination of the Halsted radical mastectomy.
  • He and his colleagues were instrumental in defining the effectiveness of adjuvant chemotherapy and hormonal therapy with the synthetic estrogen tamoxifen in treating breast cancer as a systemic disease. His studies revealed that tamoxifen substantially reduces the incidence of breast cancer in high-risk women when taken as a preventive measure.
  • Former chairman of the National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
  • Currently distinguished service professor, Department of Surgery, University of Pittsburgh.


Lawrence H. Einhorn, MD

Indiana University

Pioneered a lifesaving treatment for testicular cancer

  • Pioneered the development of the lifesaving medical treatment in 1974 for testicular cancer, increasing the survival rate from 10% to 95%.
  • His work has garnered many accolades, including the AACR Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Memorial Award, American Society of Clinical Oncology Karnofsky Award, American Cancer Society Medal of Honor, and the General Motors Kettering Prize. In addition, Einhorn is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and American Philosophical Society.
  • Currently a distinguished professor in the Department of Medicine, Division of Hematology/Oncology, and a Livestrong Foundation Professor of Oncology at Indiana University School of Medicine.


Bert Vogelstein, MD

Johns Hopkins Medicine

Pioneer who discovered the molecular basis of colorectal cancer

  • Clarified the role of the gene TP53, which repairs DNA in dividing cells and destroys the cell if its DNA cannot be repaired. More recently, his group sequenced breast and colon cancer DNA, identifying genes that are mutated.
  • His work on colorectal cancers forms the paradigm for much of modern cancer research. He designed novel approaches to study the molecular basis of tumors and found that they result from the sequential accumulation of alterations in oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes.
  • Developed the concept that some genes, such as TP53, KRAS, and APC, are involved in cancer with great frequency; he called these genes “mountains.” Thousands of genes are involved in cancer but are found at very low frequencies; he called these genes “hills.”
  • Currently serves as director of the Ludwig Center for Cancer Genetics and Therapeutics at Johns Hopkins Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center.


Everett E. Vokes, MD

University of Chicago

Innovator of concomitant chemoradiation therapy for head and neck cancers

  • Internationally renowned expert in the treatment of head and neck cancer.
  • His work has shown that intense treatment combining radiation and chemotherapy can bring locally advanced head and neck cancer under control and improve survival.
  • Treated famed Chicago chef Grant Achatz for stage 4B tongue cancer with a new first-line combination approach of chemotherapy and radiation. As a result, Achatz did not require surgery, sparing his taste buds.
  • Recipient of the new Translational Research Professorship from the American Society of Clinical Oncology, as well as the Francis L. Lederer Foundation grant for research on the malignancies of the upper aerodigestive tract.
  • Currently chair of the Department of Medicine and physician-in-chief at the University of Chicago Medicine and Biological Sciences.


Elizabeth H. Blackburn, PhD

University of California, San Francisco

Innovator in the genetic composition and function of telomeres

  • Nobel Prize-winner for discoveries elucidating the genetic composition and function of telomeres (segments of DNA occurring at the ends of chromosomes).
  • Discovered an enzyme called telomerase (replenishes DNA).
  • Was elected Foreign Associate of the National Academy of Sciences in 1993, and was elected as a Member of the Institute of Medicine in 2000. She was awarded the Albert Lasker Medical Research Award in Basic Medical Research (2006). In 2007, she was named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People, and she was the 2008 North American Laureate for L’Oreal-UNESCO For Women in Science.
  • Currently the Morris Herzstein Endowed Chair in Biology and Physiology and professor in the Departments of Biochemistry/Biophysics and Microbiology/ Immunology at the University of California, San Francisco.


Brian J. Druker, MD

Oregon Health & Science University

Innovator of targeted therapies for chronic myeloid leukemia

  • Revolutionized the treatment of cancer through research to develop Gleevec, the first drug to target the genetic defects of a particular cancer while leaving healthy cells unharmed.
  • Based on his studies, Gleevec is now the treatment of choice for patients with chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), and its success has opened the door to developing targeted therapies for other cancers.
  • Identified STI571, the precursor to Gleevec, as a promising anticancer compound for its ability to kill CML cells by turning off the signal of the abnormal cancer-causing protein.
  • Currently director of the Knight Cancer Institute, Oregon Health and Science University; the JELD-WEN Chair of Leukemia Research; and an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.


Thomas J. Lynch, Jr, MD

Yale Cancer Center

Pioneered the use of molecular testing for EGFR mutations in lung cancer

  • Pioneered the use of molecular testing for mutations in the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) gene to select patients who can benefit from targeted lung cancer therapies.
  • Internationally known for his leadership in the development of novel therapies for the treatment of lung cancer.
  • Pioneer in the field of personalized medicine.
  • Director, Yale Cancer Center and physician-in-chief, Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven.


Robert A. Kyle, MD

Mayo Clinic

Pioneer in myeloma research, treatment, and education

  • He discovered two significant conditions, monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance and smoldering multiple myeloma, laying the groundwork to understand myeloma disease progression.
  • In 2003, the Robert A. Kyle Lifetime Achievement Award was established to “honor the physician who most exemplifies a singular dedication to and compassion for myeloma patients and treatment of their disease.”
  • In 2001, he was the first recipient of the Waldenström Award for understanding and treatment of Waldenström macroglobulinemia.
  • Currently professor of Medicine and Laboratory Medicine at Mayo Medical School.


Vincent T. DeVita, Jr, MD

Yale Cancer Center

Innovator of combination chemotherapy regimens for large-cell lymphomas

  • Instrumental in developing combination chemotherapy programs that led to an effective regimen of curative chemotherapy for Hodgkin disease and diffuse large cell lymphomas.
  • In collaboration with another physician, DeVita developed the combination chemotherapy CMF, which still remains a useful therapy for breast cancer.
  • Along with colleagues at the NCI, he developed the four-drug combination, known by the acronym MOPP, which increased the cure rate for patients with advanced Hodgkin disease from nearly zero to over 70%.
  • Director of the Yale Cancer Center from 1993 to 2003.
  • In 1980, appointed director of the NCI and the National Cancer Program, a position he held until 1988.
  • Currently Amy and Joseph Perella Professor of Medicine (Medical Oncology) and professor of Epidemiology (Chronic Diseases) and of Medicine (Medical Oncology) at Yale School of Public Health.


Charles L. Sawyers, MD

Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center

Innovator of novel AR inhibitor for treatment of advanced prostate cancer

  • His insights into the mechanisms of resistance to standard hormone therapy for advanced prostate cancer led to the discovery of the drug enzalutamide (Xtandi).
  • Leads a research team that uses a new approach in finding a potential drug to attack cancer cells that have become resistant to enzalutamide.
  • Investigates the signaling pathways that drive the growth of cancer cells with an eye toward designing new treatment options for patients with prostate cancer.
  • A member of President Obama’s National Cancer Advisory Board, the Institute of Medicine, and the National Academy of Sciences.
  • Recipient of the Lasker DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award.
  • Leads a research team that uses a new approach in finding a potential drug to attack cancer cells that have become resistant to enzalutamide.
  • Currently chair of the Human Oncology and Pathogenesis Program and the Marie-Josee and Henry R. Kravis Chair at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.


Steven A. Rosenberg, MD, PhD

National Cancer Institute

Pioneered adoptive immunotherapy in melanoma

  • Credited with developing the use of IL-2 and immune cells for the treatment of patients with melanoma in a procedure termed adoptive cell transfer.
  • Has shown that expanding immune cells (known as tumor infiltrating lymphocytes) in the lab can be used to treat patients with melanoma.
  • Currently chief of Surgery at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, and a professor of Surgery at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences and at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Washington, DC.


Judah Folkman, MD (deceased)

Harvard Medical School

Father of angiogenesis

  • An American medical scientist best known for his research on tumor angiogenesis, the process by which a tumor attracts blood vessels to nourish itself and sustain its existence. He founded the field of angiogenesis research, which has led to the discovery of a number of therapies based on inhibiting or stimulating neovascularization.
  • Invented an implantable device for timed drug release and donated it patent-free to the World Population Council; it contributed to what is now known as Norplant.
  • Was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, the National Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society, among others.