'Model Translational Researcher' Wins Karnofsky Award

Fran Lowry

April 25, 2011

April 25, 2011 — Kenneth C. (Ken) Anderson, MD, has been named the recipient of the 2011 David A. Karnofsky Memorial Award and Lecture by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) in recognition of his "outstanding achievements in cancer research and for his influence on the treatment of patients with cancer."

Dr. Anderson, who developed what is considered to be the world's most successful research and clinical program for multiple myeloma, will be honored at ASCO's 2011 Annual Meeting in June.

Kenneth C. (Ken) Anderson

He is currently Kraft Family Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and director of the Jerome Lipper Multiple Myeloma Center and the LeBow Institute for Myeloma Therapeutics at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, in Boston Massachusetts.

"Dr. Anderson is the model translational researcher," Douglas W. Blayney, MD, Ann and John Doerr Medical Director, Stanford Cancer Center, in California, and immediate past president of ASCO, told Medscape Medical News.

"His pioneering discoveries in the treatment of multiple myeloma, which led to the clinical development and approval of bortezomib (Velcade) in the treatment of this often deadly illness, and his role in the elucidation of "chaperone" proteins in cancer, will lead to further progress fighting myeloma, lymphomas, and other cancers," said Dr. Blayney, who is also chair of ASCO's Special Awards Selection Committee.

"ASCO intends this award to inspire other investigators to engage in the hard and often risky work of translating laboratory discoveries into clinical use to benefit cancer patients worldwide," he added.

Dr. Anderson is highly regarded for his commitment to patients and has cared for former vice-presidential candidate Geraldine Ferarro and others who have been instrumental in advancing the cause of multiple myeloma research.

Blessed in His Career

Hard and risky though the work might be, Dr. Anderson says he feels blessed in his career.

His laboratory, which has attracted bright young research fellows as well as established researchers from around the world, is known as the "United Nations Against Myeloma."

"I've been very blessed with individuals from around the world who have come to study with us. Some have stayed and some have gone back to their homeland and become leaders there," Dr. Anderson told Medscape Medical News. "In all cases, they have displayed an incredible, heartfelt commitment, working selflessly in the laboratory, and they are the reason that I've been fortunate to see some novel observations in the laboratory actually go to the clinic so quickly and make a difference."

Dr. Anderson grew up in Auburn, Massachusetts. His mother was a nurse, and he was first inspired to go into medicine by the local general practitioner.

"I admired him tremendously and my initial goal was to be an internal medicine, primary care doctor," he recalled.

After graduating from Boston University, where he majored in biology and psychology, Dr. Anderson went to Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, for his medical degree.

While there, he met Richard L. Humphrey, MD, who held dual appointments in pathology and medicine and who became a mentor and life-long friend.

"I met Dr. Humphrey the very first year in medical school, and he taught me 2 very important lessons in my life. One is to make science count for patients; the second is to treat patients as family. Those 2 tenets have been my guide ever since. He was a dear mentor, role model, and friend, and he remains so now," Dr. Anderson said.

As a medical student in 1973, he began working in Dr. Humphrey's lab, which was researching multiple myeloma. At that time, patients were living 2 to 3 years on average.

Survival of Multiple Myeloma Patients Has Doubled

In 1980, Dr. Anderson moved to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute as a new fellow in medical oncology, a time he describes as the golden age of monoclonal antibodies. There, his initial mentors included Lee Marshal Nadler, MD, and Stuart F. Schlossman, MD.

In the 3 decades since his arrival at Dana-Farber, the average survival of multiple myeloma patients has increased to 7 or 8 years, and might be even longer with new drug developments.

"During my career, I have been very fortunate to watch and participate in the advances that have really changed the natural history of this disease. Survival has at least doubled, and there are new concepts that make it likely that a patient newly diagnosed today is going to live at least 10 years, and probably a lot longer, Dr. Anderson said. "There has been a real transformation in the way you treat the disease, and it has been an example of science counting for patients, or what we call bench-to-bedside research."

The turning point for multiple myeloma was the advent of novel targeted therapies, which have produced major and durable clinical responses.

"The proteasome inhibitor bortezomib and the immunomodulatory drugs — thalidomide, lenalidomide, and now pomalidomide — are active when conventional therapies are not and have really transformed things," he said.

The future continues to look bright in the field, said Dr. Anderson. "Today we have the integration of these and other novel agents into the myeloma treatment paradigm . . . and the best is yet to come."

Patients Remain His Primary Motivation

Dr. Anderson acknowledged that his research is extremely rewarding, but even more rewarding is the ability to make that research translate into some improvement in diagnosis, prognosis, or treatment for patients, along with the opportunity to mentor young researchers.

"I have been very inspired by my patients over the years. As patients with myeloma live longer, we become close friends. We watch them live to see their grandchildren. Everything we do is for our patients," he said.

Some patients in particular stand out. "Francesca Thompson, MD, the first patient to undergo stem cell transplantation at our center and who was involved with the International Myeloma Foundation from the outset, and Kathy Giusti, who started the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, have been extraordinarily inspirational over the years," Dr. Anderson said.

Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman vice-presidential candidate, who ran as Walter Mondale's running mate in 1984 and who died on March 26 of this year, was another.

"She was a dear patient and friend and an example to me of always caring for others, those in need. Even when she herself was very ill, she was always willing to selflessly reach out and help others. I just went to her funeral and Walter Mondale, Madeline Albright, Hilary Clinton, and Bill Clinton all gave tributes to her. For the last 12 years, when she was ill, she clearly made the world a better place for patients, helping them personally, and at the same time, working to promote awareness and access to new medicines and research support. She was an incredible role model."

"Our patients are the ultimate inspiration for everything we do, he said."


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