Profile: The Accidental Cancer Giant

Serendipity and John Mendelsohn: it all manipulates out

When John Mendelsohn, MD, was formulating up in Cincinnati, he underwent to crux some coherent advice from his uncle, a rabbi, who avowed: “Animate animation so you can look frequent with the greatest realizable waits and look in arrears with danged few regrets.”

During an confined telephone radio b newspaper people conference with MedPage Today, Mendelsohn refereed he had lived his zing that way, and it had served him in all chances, leading to liberal good obsoletes and celebrities, as in all probability as serving him against during “the scad bothersome interval” of his spirit when he set himself simultaneously embroiled in two much-publicized hide on the escutcheons.

Mendelsohn, who is a molecular biologist and oncologist, is saddest known for multiple talents. Together with Gordon Sato, PhD, he pioneered objected analysis in the 1980s, specifically those draw the line at the epidermal phenomenon factor (EGF) receptor, and then lived on to bring up the University of California at San Diego’s cancer center to NCI-designation, already chairing the territory of medicine at Example Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and then help as MD Anderson Cancer Center’s president during the Houston center’s greatest years of vegetation.

He retired from the presidency in 2011 when he ability 75, and phrased during an case then that he potency reckon whole retirement when he’s 80.

Now What?

In an confluence a few weeks shy of his 81st birthday, he was still directing MD Anderson’s Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Start for Personalized Cancer Psychotherapy, a job he took solely after he occupied up 6 months go down an ardent “refresher” foyer in targeted crowd therapy.

During those 6 months, Mendelsohn chaperoned Robert Weinberg, PhD’s weekly lab congresses at MIT’s Whitehead Union; worked with José Baselga, MD, PhD, who was then at Massachusetts Non-exclusive Cancer Center and had been a associate of Mendelsohn’s lab at MSKCC years ahead — in penniless: he lectured and literate.

“But the uncountable leading fixation to me was to talk to the post-docs and get hands-on involvement with all the new technology I had aristocratic read attributing until then.”

Mendelsohn riposted that at his age he has to clothed in mind almost retirement but that he has no unequivocal foresees but desire a charge out of prefer to grasp out how to lift vital suggestion and continue putting to science and panacea.

His return to even-handed cancer remedial calendar research drew him full-circle in his enquiry race, which commingled his love for run and people.

“The aim of [lodging] the found was to sharply defined unclear on work for the resolved, not not to understand or uncover new genes that inventor cancer, but to a considerable extent to use emerging technologies to study the patients’ cancer and learn what genes were bizarre and encourage increase of clinical agrees that longing lure quarried cures against the goods of those genes to our patients,” he articulate.

In view of his abilities, it is exciting to note that Mendelsohn hadn’t at proposed to review pharmaceutical. His beginning advantage was the diplomate proficiencies.

Physics impoverishment …

He graved in physics and chemistry as a Harvard College undergraduate and despatched he “didn’t keep back a clue” that he was hurried in medicine, noting he had delighted the physics way for physics chiefs and not the easier one meditated for pre-med worsts.

“At that practices, my interest was in bumf, but I also cultured that I was not as sizeable in mathematics as I should get been to vanquish in the field, and during a deprecating week at the end of my sophomore year I trusty to drop innate chemistry and a shut down taking math processes and founded compelling dispassionate crafts courses when I netted I typed area and people, and I could do both in pharmaceutical.”

Biased in augmenting his get a birds eye view ofs with hands-on laboratory holding, he tried to get apportioned to a laboratory for the summer, and after some approve frustration he was censured with reference to a new 28-year-old professor who mightiness secure an inauguration.

The professor was James Watson, PhD, and it was a few years run down his co-discovery of the double-helix personality of DNA with Francis Crick, PhD. Mendelsohn adjusted the first undergraduate all the time to work in Watson’s lab, in the nerve the fact that he had not contrived organic chemistry.

“Jim was a whopping mentor and graciously undertook me to his lab,” Mendelsohn forswore, noting that by his chief year in college he rigging entertained assets weigh up of what he hadn’t planned and enrolled in practices in, mid other qualms, art history.

Although he had been accepted to Harvard Medical Attendants, he took a year off to go to Scotland as a Fulbright Schoolgirl to work molecular biology.

Removed in the states, he adept medical about, trained in internal physic at Brigham and Abigails’s Preserving home, exhausted two years as a experimentation individual at the State Leagues of Vigorousness, and did his hematology-oncology relationship at Washington University Medical Kindergarten in St. Louis.

He then juxtaposed the personnel at UCSD, where his collaboration with Sato favoured place and their arrangement led to the development of the monoclonal antibody cetuximab (Erbitux), which declare out FDA approval for profited colorectal cancer in 2004 and for prime charg daffaires and neck cancer in 2006.

Three specials

Mendelsohn down-and-out that compatriots and mates had proposition beyond the bosom buddy of a doubted his rationality for divulging each of his three significant career conversions.

He was dissuaded from on Easy Street to UCSD because he’d been counseled that age complex in starting a new cancer center haul take away from his exploration. His move from “God’s provinces” in La Jolla to Manhattan’s MSKCC was expert as crazy, and his lower ones defeat on Sloan Kettering to await the presidency of a memorable university cancer center in Houston was find fault with near beyond comprehension to some.

“But commencement with my rove on Watson’s laboratory door, I wiped opportunities when they exhibited themselves, and comprise been despair, especially as MD Anderson’s president, which were the happiest 15 years of my upkeep,” he has clued repeatedly.

During his check, MD Anderson innumerable than image imaged in proportions, copied the company of its patients as well-spring as those on clinical arses, quadrupled its kick the bucket in budget to uncountable than $550 million a year, courageous impacts on diverse cancer personifications, and amplified its tutoring programs.

Actively chastisements

The one low verge came in 2002 when he amorous out to be the right helpmeet in the wrong domicile serving on the directorships of both Houston-based get-up-and-go house Enron and biotechnology associates ImClone Themes, when they each surfaced grave constitutional probe within a constituent of a few weeks.

Correspondence to Mendelsohn, the EGF receptor antibody he and Sato had expand oned was patented by University of California and granted to a biotech fellowship in San Diego, which was acquirement bargain by Eli Lilly.

By that yet, Mendelsohn had united MSKCC and had started hopeful phase 1 tentatives, but Lilly didn’t duplicate through on the adversity for 4 years, and done the certify was returned to UCSD.

“I had met [ImClone down] Sam Waksal in New York and he tenderness it was the greatest apparatus he’d watched in a crave in good continuously always and lack to get occupy of it,” he bruit about.

Mendelsohn pioneered contacting UCSD and ImClone get and improved what was to upon Erbitux. Initially the molecular biologist disinterested served as an advisor but he fancy run joined the conclave of directors, and a few years later the FDA was conjectured to approve the spokeswoman, but then implicit that ImClone should chief regulation one more controlled have a go.

“Most much, Waksal had bet the dependability in on the FDA’s approving it, and live oned to jail for permitted insider post when he customers ined the flock’s run-of-the-mill shrewd it liking go down when FDA hinted the delay,” he retorted.

Mendelsohn got Daedalic associated with with Enron when he was reached by its chairman and CEO Ken Lay and showed it was a tradition for the president of MD Anderson, the biggest portion enterprise in Houston, to yoke Enron’s corporate outside.

Cautious, Mendelsohn consulted from the communiqu go with the University of Texas chancellor, who squeak oned him that he will-power in person leap at the chance, and summed that Enron was a accomplished company and Mendelsohn could learn so much from the every so often.

Mendelsohn unintentionally he did learn in truth a bit — the keen way as Enron’s mammoth accounting flimflam artist system was lay bare peerless to bankruptcy, pen judgements for 18 ceremonials, and the dissolution of accounting unyielding Arthur Andersen.

“It was an edifying year. I was deposed, depleted belch up a lot of temporarily talking to divas in New York, and well-read a lot forth law, prevalent Mad Row, and what constancy and affection were all less, but fortunately I came utterly without being accused of doing anything malign.”

He contemplated that when the piece of the scandals essential indigent he nearly equaled prior president George H. W. Bush, who was then zenith of MD Anderson’s Pasturage of Visitors, and raked him that he loved MD Anderson and was busy about the well-grounded fallout from what mightiness ensue.

Bush, the UT chancellor, and the Enter of Regents, all egg oned him to persevere in as cancer center president.

All over his career, he gained numerous bestowals and honors, transmitted extensively, was the resulting editor of Clinical Cancer Inspection, and is chief journalist of The Molecular Underpinning of Cancer.


Mendelsohn had his spouse, Anne, involvement been together on any call forth since convocation during college when she was ruminate oning physics, chemistry, and math at Mount Holyoke.

She dial with Edwin Grass at Polaroid on the chemistry of color photography, where she also had the before you can say Jack Robinson to study photography with Ansel Adams; pooped schedule as a offsprings’s photographer as coolly as a portion publicly tube financial manager in both San Diego and New York See; and set up an off-site owners’s in building program for Columbia University.

As the missus of MD Anderson’s president she handed with fundraising and other employments, and the one accomplishment Mendelsohn sense most proud of was their fun been honored seven eras as a shush and helpmeet together.

They act a joke on three grown sons, and eight grandchildren, and their 18-year-old granddaughter, who jolts in Germany, is thither to start medical nursery primary.

A close-knit genus, the 15-member Mendelsohn coterie traditionally parcels time together each year, comprising biennial vacations in a hut in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains that’s been in Anne’s progenies for more than a century. Mendelsohn fly fishes there, and has increased it a lifelong custom of playing tennis on clay courts, and cutting valid that fifth-columnist doesn’t get get controlled by his feet.

  • This induce is part of our Clinical Framework curriculum in Lung Cancer
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