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John Mendelsohn, M.D., President

John Mendelsohn, M.D., combines experience in clinical and laboratory research with administrative expertise for guiding The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in the 21st century.

Since becoming president in 1996, he has recruited a visionary management team and implemented new priorities for integrated programs in patient care, research, education and cancer prevention. Under his direction, MD Anderson has been named the top cancer hospital in the nation five out of the past eight years in U.S. News & World Report's “America’s Best Hospitals” survey.

For almost three decades, Mendelsohn has been at the forefront in understanding how growth factors regulate the proliferation of cancer cells by activating receptors on the surface of the cells. These receptors, when activated, control key cell signaling pathways. He developed a specific monoclonal antibody called Erbitux™, which blocks the activity of the receptor for epidermal growth factor. Clinical research trials have demonstrated that therapy combining this antireceptor antibody with chemotherapy or radiation is effective treatment for patients with several forms of cancer. On February 12, 2004, the FDA approved Erbitux™ for treatment of advanced colorectal cancer.

Where it All Began

Mendelsohn was born in Cincinnati on Aug. 31, 1936, and earned his bachelor’s degree in biochemical sciences magna cum laude from Harvard College in 1958. While there, he was the first undergraduate student of James D. Watson, Ph.D., who later won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for identifying the structure of DNA.

After spending a year in Scotland as a Fulbright Scholar, Mendelsohn received his medical degree cum laude from Harvard Medical School in 1963. Between 1963 and 1970, he took residency training in internal medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, completed a research fellowship at the National Institutes of Health and finished a fellowship in hematology-oncology at Washington University Medical School in St. Louis. From 1970 to 1985, he was on the University of California San Diego faculty, rising from assistant professor to professor of medicine at UCSD in less than nine years. He was instrumental in establishing and funding a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center at UCSD, which he directed from its inception in 1976 until he went to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in 1985.

At Memorial Sloan-Kettering, Mendelsohn chaired, reorganized and expanded its Department of Medicine. He also extended the landmark research that he began at UCSD to clarify at the molecular level how monoclonal antibody 225 prevents activation of the growth-signaling pathway that is turned on in cells by tyrosine kinase in EGF receptors. His group’s laboratory and pre-clinical studies initiated and advanced the concept of anti-receptor therapy and anti-tyrosine kinase therapy as new forms of cancer treatment.

Mendelsohn held the Winthrop Rockefeller Chair in Medical Oncology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, where he also served for five years as co-head of the Program in Molecular Pharmacology and Therapeutics. In addition, he was professor and vice-chairman of medicine at Cornell University Medical College and an attending physician at both Memorial and New York Hospitals. The first clinical trial in the world with an anti-receptor and an anti-tyrosine kinase treatment was carried out at Memorial Sloan-Kettering with monoclonal antibody 225.

MD Anderson’s Third President

In July 1996, Mendelsohn assumed the presidency of MD Anderson, becoming only the third full-time president of the Houston-based institution that was established in 1941. He also is professor of cancer medicine, and a faculty member at The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.

Mendelsohn served as the founding editor of Clinical Cancer Research, a bimonthly translational research journal published by the American Association for Cancer Research, and he has been a member of the editorial boards of numerous other leading scientific journals. He has authored more than 300 scientific papers and articles for journals and books, and serves as senior editor of the textbook, “The Molecular Basis of Cancer.” 

Honoring Career Achievements

Mendelsohn has received a number of national and international honors in recognition of his career achievements. Among those are the Dan David Prize in Cancer Therapy (2006), Fulbright Lifetime Achievement Medal (2005), Bristol-Myers Squibb Freedom to Discover Award for Distinguished Achievement in Cancer Research (2004), David A. Karnofsky Memorial Award from the American Society of Clinical Oncology (2002), Joseph H. Burchenal Clinical Research Award from the American Association for Cancer Research (1999) and the Gold Medal of Paris (1997). For more information on Dr. Mendelsohn's achievements, please see the biography section.

Mendelsohn and his wife, Anne, have three sons and jointly participate in multiple civic activities. They were honored in 2001 by Leadership Houston with the Distinguished Leadership Award. Mendelsohn is an active member of the Greater Houston Partnership (Board), the Houston Technology Center (Board), BioHouston (Vice-Chairman), the Center for Houston’s Future (Board) and the Houston Forum.


© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center