MD Anderson’s Hagop Kantarjian, M.D., awarded highest honor from American Society of Clinical Oncology

Kantarjian to receive David A. Karnofsky Memorial Award for lifelong contributions to leukemia research and patient care

The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) will present the 2023 David A. Karnofsky Memorial Award to Hagop Kantarjian, M.D., chair of Leukemia at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, for his contributions to leukemia clinical research and his dedication to improving the lives of patients.

“Cancer research and patient care have been my life’s passion and mission and, I am honored to be recognized by ASCO with the society’s highest scientific award,” Kantarjian said. “I am grateful for all of the outstanding investigators in the Leukemia Department and outside colleagues whom I have had the privilege of working with throughout my career.”

The David A. Karnofsky Memorial Award has been presented annually since 1970 to recognize an oncologist who has made outstanding contributions to cancer research, diagnosis and/or treatment. Kantarjian will be presented with the award and will give a scientific lecture at the 2023 ASCO Annual Meeting.

For the past four decades, Kantarjian has led practice-changing national and international clinical trials at MD Anderson for the treatment of all leukemia subtypes. These trials resulted in multiple Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved drugs and delivered new standards of care across leukemias, significantly improving quality of life and survival rates across several leukemia subsets. Over the last two decades, Kantarjian has led national and international studies of innovative next-generation BCR-ABL tyrosine kinase inhibitors.

“Throughout a remarkable career, Dr. Kantarjian has contributed immensely to our mission of ending cancer. He not only advanced new treatments and furthered our knowledge of leukemia, but his leadership has inspired so many in the MD Anderson community,” said Peter WT Pisters, M.D., president of MD Anderson. “We congratulate Hagop on this exceptional achievement, and we thank him for the countless lives he has saved around the world.”

Among Kantarjian’s many contributions to the field of leukemia, highlights include:

  • Developing the HYPER-CVAD regimen as a standard-of-care frontline therapy for adult patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). This regimen led to a change in the treatment approach to stop the disease from spreading to a patient’s central nervous system by administering a chemotherapy injection into the spinal fluid instead of treating with radiation therapy.
  • Establishing clinical biology parameters of chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), including definitions of CML phases and cytogenetic responses as well as establishing new prognostic factors, which were subsequently adopted in studies of tyrosine kinase inhibitors.
  • Leading the development of decitabine and epigenetic hypomethylation therapy for treating myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) and older/unfit patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML). He designed and conducted the Phase III trials that resulted in FDA approval of decitabine for MDS in 2006 and the European approval in older/unfit AML patients in 2012.
  • Pioneering research with hypomethylating agents (HMAs) in combination with venetoclax, which resulted in FDA approval of HMA-venetoclax combinations in older/unfit patients with AML in 2017.
  • Championing the development of clofarabine, conducting animal toxicology studies, and leading subsequent Phase I, Phase II and pivotal Phase III and Phase IV trials that resulted in FDA approval of clofarabine for pediatric patients with ALL.
  • Developing several FLT3 inhibitors, IDH inhibitors and venetoclax, which all received FDA approvals for the treatment of AML and its subsets.
  • Leading the clinical development of multiple monoclonal antibodies for treating ALL, including inotuzumab and blinatumomab, and leading the multi-institutional national studies of these monoclonal antibodies in adult patients with ALL.
  • Developing regimens containing inotuzumab and blinatumomab combined with chemotherapy for adults with pre-B ALL.
  • Working on the development of imatinib, dasatinib, nilotinib, bosutinib, ponatinib and omacetaxine, which all received FDA approval for CML therapy.

In addition to his own research contributions, Kantarjian has dedicated his career to the training and mentoring of clinicians and researchers focused on leukemia research and patient care, many of whom now provide exceptional treatment at institutions worldwide. These relationships have broadened Kantarjian’s impact in the field and helped to extend knowledge far beyond the walls of MD Anderson.

“Dr. Kantarjian’s long list of accomplishments and groundbreaking discoveries are a testament to his lifelong commitment to impactful cancer research and patient care,” said Giulio Draetta, M.D., Ph.D., chief scientific officer at MD Anderson. “As a community that strives to deliver cancer breakthroughs every day, we are immensely proud of him for receiving this well-deserved honor from ASCO.”

Since 1995, Kantarjian has served as chair of MD Anderson’s Department of Leukemia. In 2000, he established the MD Anderson Leukemia Fellowship Program, which now trains 10 fellows each year. To date, he has published over 2,400 peer-reviewed articles in many top peer-reviewed journals. Kantarjian has received many honors throughout his distinguished career, including the American Lebanese Medical Association’s Lifetime Achiement Award, the American Association for Cancer Research’s Joseph H. Burchenal Memorial Award, and the Leukemia Society of America’s Outstanding Service to Mankind Award. He also was named an ASCO Fellow and a Leukemia Society of America Special Fellow and Scholar.

He has served on multiple ASCO committees throughout the years andserved on the ASCO Board of Directors from 2010-2015. In 2012, Kantarjian co-founded the Society of Hematologic Oncology, which focuses on the research and education of rising oncologists interested in hematologic malignancies.

Kantarjian has been a vocal advocate for key issues in patient-centered cancer care including issues pertaining to cancer drug shortages and costs. He currently is a non-resident fellow in health care at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.