The inaugural Luminary Awards in GI Cancer winners pose with presenters and hosts following the event.
Five leaders in the fight against gastrointestinal (GI) cancers from academia, the community, and clinic were honored last night at the inaugural Luminary Awards, which was hosted by OncLive® and The Ruesch Center for the Cure of Gastrointestinal Cancers.
“Tonight’s recipients embody the mission of [The Ruesch Center]—to combine expertise in molecular medicine, translational research, with a patient-centered philosophy,” John L. Marshall, MD, director of the Ruesch Center for the Cure of Gastrointestinal Cancer, said during the event.
The Ruesch Center for the Cure of Gastrointestinal Cancers at the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center was established in 2009 by Jeanne Ruesch. In honor of her late husband Otto’s valiant fight against pancreatic cancer, Jeanne provided the seed to grow one of the country’s top centers, which focuses on some of the most underfunded cancers.
The first honoree of the night was Henry T. Lynch, MD, MS, FACP, FAACR, of Creighton University School of Medicine. His work in uncovering the first known hereditary cause of cancer lead to the dismissal of the previous understanding that cancer was environmentally driven.
Lynch’s discovery, which would later be known as Lynch syndrome, has not only led to a deeper understanding of the hereditary nature of diseases such as breast and colon cancer but has provided an explanation for patients who are diagnosed with multiple tumors. One such patient, Elizabeth Wrege, presented Lynch with his Luminary Award, citing that through his life’s work, and the care of Dr Marshall and the Ruesch Center, she now lives free of breast and colon cancer.
The next Luminary Award recipient, Julie Fleshman, JD, MBA, dedicated her life to changing the course of this disease after losing her father to pancreatic cancer just 4 months after his diagnosis. “That whole experience was just unacceptable to me,” said Fleshman. “It is really what has driven my passion for the past 18 years—to change the course of history for this disease.”
Fleshman, president and CEO of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, has developed programs for patients and families, such as Know Your Tumor® and Precision Promise. Under her tutelage, the organization has awarded 159 pancreatic cancer research grants and aided over 165,000 patients with pancreatic cancer and their families.
Jeanne Ruesch presented Fleshman with her Luminary Award, stating that Fleshman’s work with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network has changed the national conversation around this devastating disease.
Robert Goldsmith, vice president of OncLive,
presented Frank McCormick, PhD, FRS, with the third Luminary Award of the night. As leader of The RAS Initiative, McCormick is currently working toward developing therapies against RAS
McCormick, of the University of California, San Francisco, has dedicated his career to developing therapeutic strategies to better target cancer cells. As the chief officer and founder of Onyx Pharmaceuticals, McCormick oversaw the development and approval of sorafenib, one of the main therapies for hepatocellular carcinoma, which set the stage for a new class of kinase inhibitors with multiple targets, said Goldsmith.
The fourth honoree of the night, Andrew Warshaw, MD, FACS, FRCSED (HON), of Harvard Medical School of Massachusetts General Hospital, was introduced by Patrick Jackson, MD. As a former pupil of Warshaw, Jackson reflected on his mentor’s career as one of bravery. Warshaw entered the field of pancreatic cancer surgery when the survival rate of surgery was 5%, and survival for those that had a successful surgery was even more dismal.
“He is one of the forward-thinking people that made this disease process amenable to surgical therapy in a safer way. He is one of the few people I can name as a leader of surgery, science, and education—in the surgical field, we call those triple threats,” said Jackson of Warshaw.
In his speech, Warshaw stressed the importance of collaboration, stating that multidisciplinary care is imperative to the advancement of pancreatic cancer treatment.
The fifth and final Luminary Award was presented to Daniel G. Haller, MD, FACP, FRCP, of the Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania. In his introduction, Marshall cited Haller’s incredible influence on much of the medical literature published today, as Haller has served as the associate editor for Hematology-Oncology of the Annals of Internal Medicine, as well as the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
Reflecting on his impressive body of work, Haller could not help but recall the reason that so many oncologists enter the field—to help other people.
“I’ve been doing this for 40 years, and I still think it is a privilege to see every patient,” Haller said. “I think of seeing patients like Christmas morning, these are the presents that you get—every time you enter someone’s life you have to have an impact.”
In his concluding remarks, Marshall highlighted the importance of advancing science and research to change lives and outcomes, which includes collaboration and recognition of the field’s innovators.
“Let’s hope that honoring these individuals will shed some much-needed light on a cancer type that is too often misunderstood, underfunded, and not often discussed,” he said.