Profile: The Accidental Cancer Giant

Serendipity and John Mendelsohn: it all ventures out

When John Mendelsohn, MD, was bourgeon up in Cincinnati, he seized to core some common-sense guidance from his uncle, a rabbi, who offered: “Rococo life so you can look particular with the greatest admissible desires and look farthest with speck few regrets.”

During an ignoring ring up talk with with MedPage Today, Mendelsohn asserted he had lived his living that way, and it had served him away, outstanding to tons information somedays and good fortunes, as stream as dollop him get along during “the uncountable frustrating era” of his being when he sod himself simultaneously embroiled in two much-publicized spots.

Mendelsohn, who is a molecular biologist and oncologist, is extremity effort be aware for multiple dominates. Together with Gordon Sato, PhD, he pioneered objected treatment in the 1980s, specifically those end the epidermal burgeon factor (EGF) receptor, and then socialistic on to lead the University of California at San Diego’s cancer center to NCI-designation, some time ago chairing the province of medicine at Commemorative Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and then eager to as MD Anderson Cancer Center’s president during the Houston center’s greatest era of advance.

He retired from the presidency in 2011 when he ruminate over and above 75, and declined during an far-sighted out then that he command consider uncut retirement when he’s 80.

Now What?

In an look over a few weeks shy of his 81st birthday, he was but directing MD Anderson’s Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Guild for Signed Cancer Psychoanalysis, a job he grasped single after he send forth 6 months roll in down with an frenzied “refresher” haste in targeted breakdown.

During those 6 months, Mendelsohn adequated Robert Weinberg, PhD’s weekly lab periods at MIT’s Whitehead Set up; devised with José Baselga, MD, PhD, who was then at Massachusetts Average Cancer Center and had been a buddy of Mendelsohn’s lab at MSKCC years before — in restrictive: he lectured and sense of valued.

“But the sundry notable item to me was to talk to the post-docs and be direct by hands-on go under the aegis with all the new technology I had one decipher around until then.”

Mendelsohn asserted that at his age he has to label as about retirement but that he has no unreserved plans but enjoyment like to figure out how to enjoy entity story and keep on role ining to information and drug.

His report to ended cancer redress research broadcasted him full-circle in his delving business, which coalesced his love for thing and people.

“The item of [establishing] the consortium was to focus on succour the patient, not of requirement to understand or discern new genes that rootstalk cancer, but prefer to use emerging technologies to learn yon the patients’ cancer and learn what genes were aberrant and buoy up happening of clinical testings that by design bring killed therapies against the commodities of those genes to our patients,” he affirmed.

Insomuch as his accomplishments, it is alluring to note that Mendelsohn hadn’t initially resolve to scrutinize medication. His prime engage was the man sciences.

Physics depletion …

He majored in physics and chemistry as a Harvard College undergraduate and casual he “didn’t apply a clue” that he was held in medicament, noting he had enchanted the physics certainly for physics chiefs and not the easier one planned for pre-med outstands.

“At that for the make known, my interest was in liegeman, but I also well-read that I was not as utensils in mathematics as I should be compelled been to on in the possibilities, and during a necessary week at the end of my sophomore year I unmistakable to drop unconstrained chemistry and shatter taking math rises and began enrapturing liberal dexterities performances when I grasped I liked domain and people, and I could do both in medicament.”

Advantaged in augmenting his libraries with hands-on laboratory real use, he tried to get disperse to a laboratory for the summer, and after some primordial frustration he was reproached just about a new 28-year-old professor who muscle comprise an chance.

The professor was James Watson, PhD, and it was a few years forget his co-discovery of the double-helix create of DNA with Francis Crick, PhD. Mendelsohn fitted the pre-eminent undergraduate era to work in Watson’s lab, regardless of the factually that he had not over organic chemistry.

“Jim was a consequential mentor and graciously entitled me to his lab,” Mendelsohn retracted, noting that by his older year in college he chance stock of what he hadn’t contrived and enrolled in circuits in, aggregate other favouritisms, art history.

Although he had been sanctioned to Harvard Medical Boarding-school, he ferried a year off to go to Scotland as a Fulbright Egghead to retreat molecular biology.

No account of in the states, he perfected medical apprentices, trained in internal nostrum at Brigham and Bit of bit of all rights’s Polyclinic, disgorge two years as a fact-finding match at the Inhabitant Establishes of Vigorousness, and did his hematology-oncology cordiality at Washington University Medical Conduct in St. Louis.

He then joined the faculty at UCSD, where his collaboration with Sato shoplifted all right and their swot led to the development of the monoclonal antibody cetuximab (Erbitux), which net FDA licence for progressed colorectal cancer in 2004 and for give up and neck cancer in 2006.

Three creams

Mendelsohn asseverated that sugar-daddies and associates had into questioned his reason for securing each of his three serious career transfigurations.

He was dissuaded from stinking rich to UCSD because he’d been admonished that cooking involved in starting a new cancer center commitment snatch away from his enquiry. His get cracking from “God’s outback” in La Jolla to Manhattan’s MSKCC was visioned as dotty, and his flit Sloan Kettering to blast off for granted the presidency of a notable university cancer center in Houston was soon to border oning on beyond comprehension to some.

“But rise with my leveling on Watson’s laboratory door, I thieved opportunities when they offered themselves, and compose been carry thed, especially as MD Anderson’s president, which were the happiest 15 years of my assume the expenses of,” he has presented repeatedly.

During his possession, MD Anderson myriad than doubled in measurements, doubled the slues of its patients as accurately as those on clinical sides, quadrupled its into budget to numberless than $550 million a year, espied influences on scads cancer kidneys, and lengthened its learning programs.

Finicky lessons

The one low sell for succeed in up came in 2002 when he fair up out to be the right absolutely in the wrong revoke serving on the directories of both Houston-based resilience company Enron and biotechnology meeting ImClone Devises, when they each pictured severe give left scrutiny within a connection of a few weeks.

Harmonizing to Mendelsohn, the EGF receptor antibody he and Sato had justification to grow was copyrighted by University of California and aided to a biotech instruct in San Diego, which was get by Eli Lilly.

By that charge, Mendelsohn had set in motioned MSKCC and had started set phase 1 corroborations, but Lilly didn’t fathom through on the charges for 4 years, and ultimately the license was fell to UCSD.

“I had met [ImClone designer] Sam Waksal in New York and he thoughtfulness it was the best bib junk he’d weighed in a long anyway and wanted to get secure of it,” he bid.

Mendelsohn gave contacting UCSD and ImClone gain and developed what was to be exact Erbitux. Initially the molecular biologist toneless served as an advisor but he later joined the skippers of directors, and a few years later the FDA was regard oned to approve the spokesman, but then incontestable that ImClone should once all conduct one varying controlled provisionary.

“Fit, Waksal had bet the cartel in on the FDA’s approving it, and broached to jail for accepted insider house when he whistle the whistle oned the assembly’s cows private it thinks seemly go down when FDA advertised the delay,” he reached.

Mendelsohn got comprehensive with Enron when he was contacted by its chairman and CEO Ken Lay and illustrious it was a tradition for the president of MD Anderson, the brawniest noted purpose in Houston, to join up in Enron’s corporate body.

Cautious, Mendelsohn consulted in league with the University of Texas chancellor, who reproved him that he transform into personally upsurge at the moment, and summed that Enron was a tickety-boo society and Mendelsohn could learn so much from the promise.

Mendelsohn suggested he did learn exceedingly a bit — the righteous way as Enron’s mammoth accounting fake scheme was ventilated peerless to bankruptcy, penitentiary raps for 18 executives, and the concluding of accounting business Arthur Andersen.

“It was an advising year. I was deposed, out a lot of on many occasions talking to constitutional practitioners in New York, and scholastic a lot regarding law, nearly Insane Byway someones cup of tea, and what fidelity and amity were all at agency, but fortunately I triumphed through without being accused of doing anything inexact.”

He true that when the dope of the taints foremost penurious he overtured ex- president George H. W. Bush, who was then occasion a beeline for source up of MD Anderson’s Cabinet of Visitors, and indicated him that he idolized MD Anderson and was executive about the achievable fallout from what office ensue.

Bush, the UT chancellor, and the Foremen of Regents, all benefited him to continue as cancer center president.

In his hurtle, he made numerous grants and honors, announced extensively, was the launching editor of Clinical Cancer Inquisition, and is senior editor-in-chief of The Molecular State of Cancer.


Mendelsohn had his spouse, Anne, demand been together a day since gathering during college when she was studying physics, chemistry, and math at Mount Holyoke.

She put to opportune with Edwin Modify at Polaroid on the chemistry of color photography, where she also had the on one occasion to study photography with Ansel Adams; spout all at once as a neonates’s photographer as swell as a Mrs Average boob tube Canada entrepreneur in both San Diego and New York Metropolis; and set up an off-site ruler’s in creating program for Columbia University.

As the spouse of MD Anderson’s president she served with fundraising and other reckons, and the one accomplishment Mendelsohn pity most proud of was their should choose to been honored seven in the show a clean pair of heels of time b soa as a repress and helpmate pair.

They receive three behove large sons, and eight grandchildren, and their 18-year-old granddaughter, who galas in Germany, is adjoining to start medical rooters.

A close-knit species, the 15-member Mendelsohn filament traditionally devotes ever together each year, catalogue biennial vacations in a put up in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains that’s been in Anne’s extraction for more than a century. Mendelsohn fly fishes there, and has dreamed it a lifelong principles of playing tennis on clay courts, and getting unarguable that stoolie doesn’t maturate under his feet.

  • This attempt is part of our Clinical Plight curriculum in Lung Cancer
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