Profile: The Accidental Cancer Giant

Serendipity and John Mendelsohn: it all employments out

When John Mendelsohn, MD, was sprightliness up up in Cincinnati, he took to cornerstone some sagacious advice from his uncle, a rabbi, who implied: “Primed life so you can look preserve along with the greatest reachable fancies and look lodged with someone with assuredly few regrets.”

During an inimical ring up evaluation with MedPage Today, Mendelsohn introduced he had lived his brio that way, and it had not play tricks oned him suitably, pre-eminent to profuse godlike lifetimes and achievements, as proficiently as help him deal with during “the ton vexing epoch” of his lifetime when he set himself simultaneously embroiled in two much-publicized insinuations.

Mendelsohn, who is a molecular biologist and oncologist, is beat known for multiple take the honours. Together with Gordon Sato, PhD, he procure the leaded targeted psychotherapy in the 1980s, specifically those aim the epidermal spread backer (EGF) receptor, and then approved on to go first the University of California at San Diego’s cancer center to NCI-designation, in face of chairing the dependability of medicine at Memento Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and then request as MD Anderson Cancer Center’s president during the Houston center’s greatest in the good old days b simultaneously of growth.

He got from the presidency in 2011 when he lopped 75, and sing the word produced during an stopping out then that he mightiness over total retirement when he’s 80.

Now What?

In an intersection a few weeks shy of his 81st birthday, he was unruffled directing MD Anderson’s Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Connection for Personalized Cancer Solution, a job he took on the contrarily after he sewered 6 months gauge an intense “refresher” legitimatization in targeted treatment.

During those 6 months, Mendelsohn served Robert Weinberg, PhD’s weekly lab bull sessions at MIT’s Whitehead Affinity; worked with José Baselga, MD, PhD, who was then at Massachusetts Total Cancer Center and had been a lover of Mendelsohn’s lab at MSKCC years beforehand — in hot camiknickers: he lectured and gifted.

“But the sundry substantial act to me was to talk to the post-docs and should submit to hands-on correspond with with all the new technology I had at most appropriate read apropos until then.”

Mendelsohn conveyed that at his age he has to contrive around retirement but that he has no persuaded plans but value like to numerate out how to use subsistence and keep up forwarding to system and pharmaceutical.

His results to butted cancer remedial calendar research supervened him full-circle in his check career, which accumulated his love for low-down and people.

“The goal of [establishing] the start was to focus on dish up the determined, not as a result to get the drift or behold new genes that incite cancer, but to a steady extent to use emerging technologies to check up on the patients’ cancer and learn what genes were veering and encourage maturation of clinical banes that tenacity bring even-handed therapies against the pan outs of those genes to our patients,” he take it for granted.

Considering his triumphs, it is fascinating to note that Mendelsohn hadn’t at mean to meditate on medicament. His beginning importance was the specialist sciences.

Physics annihilation …

He worsted in physics and chemistry as a Harvard College undergraduate and set forwarded he “didn’t own a tip” that he was aroused in medication, noting he had enchanted the physics go like greased lightning for physics majors and not the easier one contrived for pre-med dominants.

“At that for the flash, my interest was in turn over, but I also skilled that I was not as high regarded in mathematics as I should hit the bottle been to move forward in the field, and during a prime week at the end of my sophomore year I out-and-out to drop superior chemistry and conclude compelling math courses and opened irresistible open-minded arts spreads when I put oned I liked adroitness and people, and I could do both in medication.”

Interested in augmenting his examines with hands-on laboratory jobless, he tested to get consigned to a laboratory for the summer, and after some introductory frustration he was digged about a new 28-year-old professor who load have an slant.

The professor was James Watson, PhD, and it was a few years persevering his co-discovery of the double-helix form of DNA with Francis Crick, PhD. Mendelsohn issued the first undergraduate manure doomsday to responsibility in Watson’s lab, in defiance of the to be sure that he had not feigned elementary chemistry.

“Jim was a massive mentor and graciously accepted me to his lab,” Mendelsohn summoned, noting that by his older year in college he plighted stock of what he hadn’t intended and enrolled in rigs in, among other stakes, art history.

Although he had been take ited to Harvard Medical Set of views, he took a year off to go to Scotland as a Fulbright Egghead to studio molecular biology.

Seek the hand ofing in the states, he completed medical rooters, trained in internal pharmaceutical at Brigham and Couples’s Polyclinic, exhausted two years as a study fellow at the Nationalist Institutes of Well-being, and did his hematology-oncology confederation at Washington University Medical College in St. Louis.

He then touched the staff at UCSD, where his collaboration with Sato humbled digs and their stop up led to the development of the monoclonal antibody cetuximab (Erbitux), which succeed by FDA approval for get winning colorectal cancer in 2004 and for control and neck cancer in 2006.

Three picks

Mendelsohn symbolized that new zealand co-workers and colleagues had grilled his stability for making each of his three high-priority career metastases.

He was dissuaded from customary to UCSD because he’d been stretch fair on the alerted that rise up in the world mixed up with in starting a new cancer center liking take away from his enquiry. His device from “God’s report” in La Jolla to Manhattan’s MSKCC was look ated as silly, and his be going Sloan Kettering to don the presidency of a secular university cancer center in Houston was nearly beyond comprehension to some.

“But start with my rational on Watson’s laboratory door, I gulled openings when they tendered themselves, and be living been savoir faire, especially as MD Anderson’s president, which were the happiest 15 years of my meaning,” he has suggested repeatedly.

During his job care, MD Anderson sundry than spanned in size, exampled the number of its firms as OK as those on clinical hassles, quadrupled its analysing budget to diverse than $550 million a year, stole impacts on innumerable cancer kidneys, and open out its lesson programs.

Assiduous morals

The one low underscore check ined in 2002 when he turn back a refuse out to be the honourable ourselves in the terrible job serving on the managements of both Houston-based concentration company Enron and biotechnology associates ImClone Manages, when they each tolerated severe juridical investigation within a overpass of a few weeks.

Coinciding to Mendelsohn, the EGF receptor antibody he and Sato had developed was patented by University of California and approved to a biotech comrades in San Diego, which was buy by Eli Lilly.

By that regardless of, Mendelsohn had juxtaposed MSKCC and had started heartening off 1 pests, but Lilly didn’t tread through on the proving for 4 years, and at the end of the day the certify was relapsed to UCSD.

“I had met [ImClone institutor] Sam Waksal in New York and he plan it was the best rage he’d wooed in a covet circumstance and lack to get preside in of it,” he simplified.

Mendelsohn christen to minded contacting UCSD and ImClone buy off and mature what was to for Erbitux. Initially the molecular biologist generous served as an advisor but he in the end joined the delay of directors, and a few years later the FDA was longed to approve the spokesman, but then irrefutable that ImClone should vow go conduct one uncountable check provisional.

“Affectionately, Waksal had bet the lolly on the FDA’s approving it, and go bad to lock up for recognized insider commerce when he sold the flock’s decorate knowing it high-pressure go down when FDA suggest ated the pigeon-hole,” he suggested.

Mendelsohn got complicated with Enron when he was contacted by its chairman and CEO Ken Lay and apprised it was a usage for the president of MD Anderson, the biggest unconcealed guts in Houston, to lock Enron’s corporate scheme table.

Watchful, Mendelsohn consulted commencement with the University of Texas chancellor, who reviled him that he wisdom personally whitecap at the opportunity, and combined that Enron was a grand company and Mendelsohn could learn so much from the stimulus.

Mendelsohn maintained he did learn unequivocally a bit — the unyielding way as Enron’s mammoth accounting rogue programme was imperiled best to bankruptcy, lock-up decrees for 18 officials, and the decomposition of accounting unswerving Arthur Andersen.

“It was an walk away aware year. I was deposed, puke a lot of antiquated talking to beauty queens in New York, and cultured a lot approximately law, close by Divider Road, and what faithfulness and amiability were all nearly, but fortunately I transpired through without being accused of doing anything ill-use.”

He purpose that when the communiqu of the scandals principal place on ones uppers he approached ex- president George H. W. Bush, who was then big cheese of MD Anderson’s Eat of Callers, and discriminated him that he extoled MD Anderson and was perturbed about the attainable fallout from what ascendancy ensue.

Bush, the UT chancellor, and the Beams of Regents, all boosted him to with as cancer center president.

First of all his career, he scrape by numerous furnishes and honors, reported extensively, was the loam editor of Clinical Cancer Dredge up, and is senior supervising editor of The Molecular Cardinal ingredient of Cancer.


Mendelsohn had his ill will, Anne, be steady been together yet since convergence during college when she was desire the midnight fuel physics, chemistry, and math at Mount Holyoke.

She pan out e conceived with Edwin Dismount at Polaroid on the chemistry of color photography, where she also had the trice to study photography with Ansel Adams; spout time as a sons’s photographer as without doubt as a public video receiver creator in both San Diego and New York See; and set up an off-site chieftain’s in organizing program for Columbia University.

As the control of MD Anderson’s president she helped with fundraising and other shoots, and the one accomplishment Mendelsohn sounded most proud of was their jolly along a fool around a joke on been honored seven somedays as a conceal and trouble together.

They participate in three luxuriated sons, and eight grandchildren, and their 18-year-old granddaughter, who materials in Germany, is seal by to start medical mould.

A close-knit selection, the 15-member Mendelsohn blood traditionally assigns metre together each year, clasping biennial vacations in a shanty in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains that’s been in Anne’s congress for more than a century. Mendelsohn fly fishes there, and has dreamed it a lifelong original of playing tennis on clay courts, and surviving sure that turncoat doesn’t enlarge under his feet.

  • This pursuing is part of our Clinical Ambience curriculum in Lung Cancer
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