We live in an era of great biomedical progress, but these do not happen on their own. They require human ingenuity to discover new therapies and therefore human organizations to deliver them to millions of patients. One man who excelled in both was John Mendelsohn, who died this month at the age of 82.
F. Carter Smith / Sygma through Getty Images
The Cincinnati native studied at Harvard in the double-helix biochemical laboratory James Watson. Mendelsohn has left his own brand of cancer researcher, developing with his colleagues from the University of California, in San Diego, a targeted therapy that blocks receptors on cancer cells to stop their growth.
The drug Cetuximab is sold as Erbitux and treats colon, head and neck cancers. Approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2004, Erbitux was a major step forward compared to traditional chemotherapy that kills all rapidly dividing cells, with bad side effects.
Mendelsohn became president of the MD Anderson Cancer Center of the University of Texas in 1996 and proceeded to make it one of the world's leading research and treatment institutions. He has raised billions of dollars for research and expansion for the center of Houston, which now rivals Dana-Farber's reputation and results with Boston and perhaps even with Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York.
Mendelsohn withdrew from MD Anderson in 2011, but remained an evangelist for the discoveries that are making many types of cancer a chronic manageable disease. The doctor died of glioblastoma, the aggressive brain tumor that also killed John McCain, which shows how far we still have to go to the second cause of death in America. But hundreds of thousands will live longer and better lives thanks to John Mendelsohn.
Appeared on 25 January 2019, paper edition.