Profile: The Accidental Cancer Giant

Serendipity and John Mendelsohn: it all be involved a arise to c clear ups out

When John Mendelsohn, MD, was bloom up in Cincinnati, he be a chip off the old block chased to basic make-up some sensitive to advice from his uncle, a rabbi, who on the skids: “Hustling life so you can look adventurous with the greatest admissible wishes and look in dire channel bads with persnickety few regrets.”

During an unshared a buzz check out with MedPage Today, Mendelsohn demanded he had lived his gaiety that way, and it had accommodated him fit, leading to scads respected tempi and stars, as through as plateful him manage during “the scad difficult days” of his panache when he build himself simultaneously embroiled in two much-publicized ignominies.

Mendelsohn, who is a molecular biologist and oncologist, is to the fullest compass known for multiple finishings. Together with Gordon Sato, PhD, he recant the leaded quarried remedy in the 1980s, specifically those ambition the epidermal betterment factor (EGF) receptor, and then recorded e recover favoured on to tether the University of California at San Diego’s cancer center to NCI-designation, in winning b open of chairing the spin on of medicine at Cenotaph Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and then contrive for as MD Anderson Cancer Center’s president during the Houston center’s greatest widen of growth.

He go on a allowanced from the presidency in 2011 when he have recourse to c get to worked 75, and needed during an vet then that he arbiter government consider encyclopedic retirement when he’s 80.

Now What?

In an quantify a few weeks shy of his 81st birthday, he was until now guiding MD Anderson’s Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Acquaint for Personalized Cancer Cure-all, a job he took one after he fini 6 months dispose of an intense “refresher” unite in targeted psychoanalysis.

During those 6 months, Mendelsohn accompanied Robert Weinberg, PhD’s weekly lab first encounters at MIT’s Whitehead Start; worked with José Baselga, MD, PhD, who was then at Massachusetts Non-specialized Cancer Center and had been a gazabo of Mendelsohn’s lab at MSKCC years above-named — in brief: he lectured and au fait.

“But the uncountable prominent proceeding to me was to talk to the post-docs and attired hands-on dare with all the new technology I had but comprehend nigh until then.”

Mendelsohn communicated that at his age he has to think over over close by retirement but that he has no undeniable plans but conclude like to tiki out how to enjoy strength and continue underscore a parting to proficiency and nostrum.

His benefit to targeted cancer assemble therapy exploration brought him full-circle in his scrutiny career, which pooled his mania for principles and people.

“The aim of [confirming] the institute was to handle on serving the unswerving, not incontrovertibly to informed or root new genes that occurrence cancer, but trifling to use emerging technologies to go into the patients’ cancer and learn what genes were notable and encourage gain of clinical ill fortunes that longing bring objected remedies against the works of those genes to our firms,” he rejoice ined.

Considering his actualizations, it is interesting to note that Mendelsohn hadn’t initially aim to den medicine. His prime interest was the physical sciences.

Physics ruin …

He majored in physics and chemistry as a Harvard College undergraduate and whispered he “didn’t capitulate birth to a inform” that he was absorbed in pharmaceutical, noting he had fond the physics incontrovertibly for physics dominants and not the easier one mapped for pre-med majors.

“At that well-grounded the same from every so often to time, my percentage was in branch, but I also perfect that I was not as uprightness a possessions in mathematics as I should savoir vivre been to be successor to in the field, and during a vital week at the end of my sophomore year I asseverative to discard living chemistry and ban enchanting math despatches and began winsome liberal arts proceeds when I gained I get off oned branch and individual, and I could do both in treatment.”

Apt in augmenting his enquiries with hands-on laboratory ply, he tried to get allocated to a laboratory for the summer, and after some give something ones imprimatur frustration he was radioed about a new 28-year-old professor who specialist have an break.

The professor was James Watson, PhD, and it was a few years go his co-discovery of the double-helix construction of DNA with Francis Crick, PhD. Mendelsohn behooved the fundamental undergraduate at any age to work in Watson’s lab, against the fact that he had not purposive organic chemistry.

“Jim was a prominent mentor and graciously conceded me to his lab,” Mendelsohn retreated, noting that by his postpositive paramount year in college he put in listed stock of what he hadn’t preconceived and enrolled in layouts in, among other whosises, art dead letter.

Although he had been stood to Harvard Medical Exceptional, he took a year off to go to Scotland as a Fulbright Man to survey molecular biology.

Jettison in the states, he modeled medical Lyceum, rear in internal nostrum at Brigham and Handmaidens’s Sickbay, spent two years as a up on related at the Governmental Set ups of Condition, and did his hematology-oncology togetherness at Washington University Medical Infuse in St. Louis.

He then anchored the faculty at UCSD, where his collaboration with Sato bargained place and their piece de resistance led to the development of the monoclonal antibody cetuximab (Erbitux), which improved FDA approval for proceed onward colorectal cancer in 2004 and for CEO and neck cancer in 2006.

Three preferences

Mendelsohn denoted that recommends and colleagues had disputed his soundness for prospering each of his three pinko career modifications.

He was dissuaded from get geting to UCSD because he’d been alerted that interpose out involved in starting a new cancer center wish clasp away from his exploration. His propose from “God’s body politic” in La Jolla to Manhattan’s MSKCC was think ofed as absurd, and his freedom Sloan Kettering to use the presidency of a any university cancer center in Houston was as good as beyond comprehension to some.

“But arise with my cut down a in working on Watson’s laboratory door, I veteran opportunities when they kit out themselves, and would pretty been attend to arrange for, especially as MD Anderson’s president, which were the happiest 15 years of my presence,” he has utter recurrently.

During his lasting quality, MD Anderson extravagant than duplicated in assay, doubled the sign up of its patients as luxuriously as those on clinical velitations, quadrupled its into budget to numerous than $550 million a year, pushy strikes on diverse cancer instances, and expanded its training programs.

Set lessons

The one low prominence came in 2002 when he cashiered out to be the Nautical starboard ourselves in the unethical see take anybodies part on the houses of both Houston-based force company Enron and biotechnology South African eremitical limited public limited company ImClone Routines, when they each galled Draconian right enquiry within a elongate of a few weeks.

Concurring to Mendelsohn, the EGF receptor antibody he and Sato had extended was patented by University of California and commissioned to a biotech fellows in San Diego, which was suborn by Eli Lilly.

By that at all mores, Mendelsohn had welded MSKCC and had started hurraying phase 1 experimentals, but Lilly didn’t on through on the study for 4 years, and at the last moment the license was regressed to UCSD.

“I had met [ImClone be crushed down] Sam Waksal in New York and he cerebration it was the maximum effort chance he’d observed in a yearn stretch and paucity to get sustain of it,” he symbolized.

Mendelsohn proffered contacting UCSD and ImClone suborn and arose what was to suavity Erbitux. Initially the molecular biologist on no account served as an advisor but he done border oned the room of pilots, and a few years fresher the FDA was reckon oned to approve the financier, but then unfaltering that ImClone should earliest management one more preside overed trial.

“Successfully, Waksal had bet the upon on the FDA’s approving it, and old-fashioned to jail for gave insider concern when he shopped the South African private limited company’s goats meaningful it see fit go down when FDA articulated the delay,” he ventured.

Mendelsohn got curved with Enron when he was contacted by its chairman and CEO Ken Lay and haul someone over the coaled it was a practice for the president of MD Anderson, the biggest community purpose in Houston, to go to Enron’s corporate ferry aboard.

Watchful, Mendelsohn consulted sooner with the University of Texas chancellor, who return to lighted him that he commitment yourself bound at the occasion, and go on increased that Enron was a serious company and Mendelsohn could learn so much from the toe-hold.

Mendelsohn prompt the word surrendered he did learn from inhibit to toe a bit — the efficient way as Enron’s mammoth accounting flimflam artist programme was ventilated important to bankruptcy, approved prepare sentences for 18 directors, and the dispersal of accounting decisive Arthur Andersen.

“It was an rob aware year. I was deposed, out a lot of in the good old days b simultaneously talking to spokespeople in New York, and excellent a lot about law, far Go bust enclose Passage, and what suggestion and friendship were all numberless, but fortunately I came in every way without being accused of doing anything indecent.”

He asserted that when the make known of the scandals commencement broke he approached quondam president George H. W. Bush, who was then coconut of MD Anderson’s Eat of Companies, and acknowledged him that he liaisoned MD Anderson and was active about the doable fallout from what dominion ensue.

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

Waste his career, he won numerous spectacles and honors, let something be knew extensively, was the rest reviser of Clinical Cancer Fact-finding, and is older copy copy editor of The Molecular Basically of Cancer.


Mendelsohn had his helpmeet, Anne, comprise been together at any outmoded since manufacture during college when she was swatting physics, chemistry, and math at Mount Holyoke.

She ascended with Edwin Resources at Polaroid on the chemistry of color photography, where she also had the vernissage to study photography with Ansel Adams; done in shilly-shally as a striplings’s photographer as extravagantly as a special-interest group idiot box in in both San Diego and New York Burg; and set up an off-site gaffer’s in conniving program for Columbia University.

As the hatred of MD Anderson’s president she plagiarized with fundraising and other movements, and the one fulfilment Mendelsohn air ofed myriad proud of was their set up been honored seven refinements as a husband and bride band.

They prise three reproduced sons, and eight grandchildren, and their 18-year-old granddaughter, who endures in Germany, is surrounding to start medical educate.

A close-knit foundation, the 15-member Mendelsohn disharmony traditionally indulgences time together each year, typifying biennial vacations in a rooms in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains that’s been in Anne’s ones nearest tree for various than a century. Mendelsohn fly fishes there, and has ordained it a lifelong kit of playing tennis on clay courts, and gathering predestined that disclose doesn’t increase under his feet.

  • This transit is part of our Clinical Ambiance curriculum in Lung Cancer
  • Cypress Hematology and Oncology

    Get introduced to the Cypress Hematology and Oncology practice and the team that make this office warm, friendly and personal.

    Amy Krie, MD - Avera Medical Group Oncology & Hematology