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A Passion for Making Cancer History®

A pioneer in personalized cancer therapies, John Mendelsohn, M.D., sets his sights on a new role as he returns to the research he began 30 years ago.
Photo by F. Carter Smith

By Laura Harvey

To John Mendelsohn, M.D., president of MD Anderson, Making Cancer History® is more than a mission or a marketing tagline. It’s been his focus for 15 years, as he’s led MD Anderson to quadruple in budget, triple in space and double in patients served and work force, thanks in no small part to philanthropic support that’s increased almost tenfold under his tenure.

Now, as he begins the next chapter of his career, Mendelsohn is eager to bring new meaning to the phrase.

Mendelsohn is preparing to step down as president and return to the clinical and translational research that he started 30 years ago.  In fall 2011, after a new president is in place, Mendelsohn will co-direct the new Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Institute for Personalized Cancer Therapy with Gordon Mills, M.D., Ph.D., chair of Systems Biology.

“The dream we all share is that five years from now attacking the products of the genes that cause cancer will be standard therapy for all cancer patients,” he says. “MD Anderson is carrying out innovative studies that will prove to the world that this is the right way to treat cancer.”

A pioneer in targeted therapy
Mendelsohn says he’s excited to be able to return to the process of designing, developing and studying therapies that target the abnormal genes and gene products detected in each patient’s cancer.

“When I began this research in 1980, it was an outlier,” says Mendelsohn. “My first grant was turned down when we proposed we could block the activity of the tyrosine kinase that’s attached to the epidermal growth factor receptor to inhibit cancer cell growth. But after our first publication I received strong grant support from the National Cancer Institute.”

Mendelsohn’s most proud that the institution has lived by a vision statement crafted at the onset of his tenure:
“We shall be the premier cancer center in the world based on the excellence of our people, our research-driven patient care and our science.”
As a result, Mendelsohn says, the world recognizes MD Anderson as the premier hospital for cancer care.

“I believe MD Anderson, more than any other institution, sets the standard today,” he says. “I’m very proud of our growth in knowledge and in the ability to provide better care for cancer patients. The numbers are astounding. Philanthropy has increased tremendously. We continue to be the No. 1 recipient of grants and grant dollars from the National Cancer Institute. The amount of revenues we contribute to research has increased, as have our contracts with pharmaceutical companies, more than doubling the number of patients we place on clinical trials each year.”


Watch the video here.



© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center