ASCO honors MD Anderson faculty with awards

The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) will present awards to leaders of cancer care during its annual meeting June 1-5 in Chicago. In recognition of their contributions to transform cancer care, three faculty members from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center will be recognized with ASCO’s Special Awards, the Society's highest honors. Also several were honored with grants or awards from ASCO’s Conquer Cancer Foundation.

John Mendelsohn, M.D., will be presented with the Distinguished Achievement Award. Created in 2009, the Distinguished Achievement Award recognizes leadership or mentorship by a scientist, practitioner, or researcher in any subspecialty of oncology that has benefited ASCO members and/or their patients.

Mendelsohn is a professor of Genomic Medicine and director of the Zayed Institute for Personalized Cancer Therapy at MD Anderson, as well as the L.E. & Virginia Simmons Senior Fellow in the Division of Health and Technology Policy at Rice University's Baker Institute. He has devoted his professional career to oncology as a clinician, an investigator, and a leader, serving as president of MD Anderson from 1996 to 2011. 

His research in the laboratory and in the clinic, including the development of the targeted therapy cetuximab, led to the development of an entirely new class of agents that have transformed cancer treatment by targeting tumors based on their genetic and molecular aberrations.

Karen H. Lu, M.D., will be presented with the ASCO-American Cancer Society Award and Lecture. First presented in 1993, the ASCO-ACS Award and Lecture recognizes significant contributions to cancer prevention and control, research, or practice.

Lu is senior vice president and chief medical officer ad interim and chair of Gynecologic Oncology and Reproductive Medicine at MD Anderson. She holds the J. Taylor Wharton Distinguished Chair in Gynecologic Oncology. 

Her main clinical interests include treating women with ovarian and endometrial cancers, as well as managing women at high risk for these diseases. She is a national leader in the cancer genetics field and has published seminal articles on hereditary gynecologic cancers. 

Lu serves as principal investigator of the National Cancer Institute-sponsored Uterine Cancer Specialized Program of Research Excellence and currently receives support for her research from the NCI and Stand Up to Cancer. She is an elected member of the American Society of Clinical Investigation. She also serves on and is past chair of the ASCO Cancer Prevention Committee.

Gabriel N. Hortobagyi, M.D., will be presented with the Gianni Bonadonna Breast Cancer Award and Lecture. First presented in 2007 and named in honor of cancer research pioneer Gianni Bonadonna, M.D., this award recognizes an active clinical and/or translational researcher who has a distinguished record of accomplishments in advancing the field of breast cancer and exceptional mentoring abilities.

Hortobagyi is professor of Breast Medical Oncology and program director of the cancer center’s Susan G. Komen Interdisciplinary Breast Fellowship Program.

He has been recognized for his outstanding work in breast cancer treatment, specifically the clinical development of several antitumor agents (anthracyclines, vinca alkaloids, taxanes and targeted agents) and use of chemotherapy before surgery. Clinical trial design, implementation and analyses represent the major areas of his expertise. He has developed important clinical trial concepts, identified patient populations on which to test such concepts, and designed innovative translational medicine concepts within each clinical trial. 

For the past several years, Hortobagyi has focused his research on combining endocrine therapy with targeted agents. This effort led to the development of everolimus, and more recently, the clinical development of CDK4/6 inhibitors. He developed, implemented, and chaired the MONALEESA-2 phase III trial, assessing the efficacy and safety of ribociclib in combination with letrozole in patients with hormone receptor-positive metastatic breast cancer. Hortobagyi is a past member of the ASCO Board of Directors and served as president of ASCO from 2006 to 2007.

ASCO’s Conquer Cancer Foundation also announced the recipients of their grants and awards.

Mariana Chavez MacGregor, M.D., received the Advanced Clinical Research Award (ACRA) in Breast Cancer. ACRA is a topic-specific competition designed to support physician-scientists committed to performing original, clinical cancer research in an area not currently funded. Chavez MacGregor will receive a three-year grant totaling $450,000 for research titled, “Understanding barriers and decreasing the time to chemotherapy in a vulnerable population: Pilot study of a targeted intervention”.

Tina Cascone, M.D., PH.D., and Daniel M. Halperin, M.D., received Career Development Awards, which provide research funding to clinical investigators, who have received their initial faculty appointment, as they work to establish an independent clinical cancer research program. The award is for $200,000, which is received over the course of three years.

Cascone’s award is for her research “Neoadjuvant immune checkpoint blockade to enhance immune responses and improve clinical efficacy for the treatment of resectable NSCLC,” and Halperin’s research is “Harnessing the immune system in neuroendocrine tumors.”

In addition, nine Fellows from MD Anderson were awarded Young Investigator awards and 18 received ASCO Annual Meeting Merit Awards.