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John Mendelsohn, M.D.

President, 1996-2011

John Mendelsohn, M.D., served as president of 
MD Anderson through an incredibly productive period of nearly 15 years. 

By virtually any measure, the institution more than doubled in size during his tenure, while aiming for even higher excellence in patient care and research.

Prior to joining MD Anderson, Mendelsohn was founding director of the National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center at the University of California, San Diego. He then chaired the Department of Medicine and co-chaired the Program in Pharmacology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

Strong research foundation

Mendelsohn brought to MD Anderson an international reputation for his research on how the binding of growth factors to receptors on the surface of cells regulates cell functions.

He and his collaborators in California produced monoclonal antibody 225, which inhibits human cancer cell proliferation by blocking the signaling pathways that are activated by the receptors for epidermal growth factor. His subsequent research in the laboratory and the clinic pioneered the universally adopted concept of anti-receptor therapy that targets key cell signaling pathways as a new form of cancer treatment. 

Antibody 225 (commercially known as Cetuximab, or Erbitux) against the receptor for epidermal growth factor was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for treatment of colon cancer in 2004 and for head and neck cancer in 2006.

Upon arrival at MD Anderson, Mendelsohn’s focus quickly shifted from laboratory research and clinical trials to the intricacies of leading an institution that grew to 18,000 employees, serves more than 100,000 patients a year, with a budget of more than $3.2 billion in 2010-11.

MD Anderson accomplishments

These numbers hardly describe what developed at MD Anderson under Mendelsohn’s leadership. Examples include:

  • Promoted growth, excellence and collaboration in research by organizing five new institutes, each of which collects academic departments and centers of excellence that share research objectives.
  • Expanded clinical care activities by opening the Lowry and Peggy Mays Clinic, a 320-bed addition above Alkek Hospital, the Faculty Center and the T. Boone Pickens Academic Tower for clinical offices, a Proton Therapy Center and a 126-room expansion to the Rotary House International Hotel.
  • Opened the George and Cynthia Mitchell Basic Sciences Research Building, housing nearly 70 laboratories studying molecular genetics, epidemiology, biochemistry, molecular biology and brain cancer research. This facility is the primary location for the Institute for Basic Science.
  • Developed the Red and Charline McCombs Institute for the Early Detection and Treatment of Cancer on MD Anderson's South Campus, to explore new approaches for translating scientific discoveries into improved treatment of cancer. The institute has five new facilities and seven centers of excellence.
  • Created the Duncan Family Institute for Cancer Prevention and Risk Assessment in the new Dan L. Duncan Building, to find ways to predict and reduce cancer risk at the genetic, population and behavioral levels. This institute also is exploring health disparities and ways of improving health care delivery.
  • Greatly expanded the nation’s largest program of clinical trials with experimental cancer therapies, with 10,000 patients participating annually. The new Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Institute for Personalized Cancer Therapy will sharpen the focus on investigating drugs and biological agents designed to counteract the genetic and molecular abnormalities in each patient’s cancer.
  • Expanded degree-granting programs, awarding bachelor’s degrees and certificates in eight allied health disciplines and jointly awarding a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences with The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.
  • Earned more competitive research grants and grant dollars from the NCI than any other U.S. cancer center or university.
  • Launched the institution's largest fundraising campaign, Making Cancer History®: The Campaign to Transform Cancer Care, reaching the $1 billion mark more than two years ahead of schedule and increasing the goal to $1.2 billion under the leadership of The University Cancer Foundation Board of Visitors.
  • Increased the cancer center’s operating and research budgets by greater than four-fold, and the number of faculty and employees by two-fold.
  • Built a worldwide collaborative network of more than 20 sister institutions and opened clinical programs bearing the MD Anderson name in the Greater Houston area and in locations as far flung as Orlando, Madrid, Istanbul, Albuquerque and soon near Phoenix.

Mendelsohn remains on the MD Anderson faculty, returning to clinical and translational research as co-director of the Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Institute for Personalized Cancer Therapy.

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center