Dr. Luca Gianni Honored for Breast Cancer Research

Fran Lowry

May 31, 2011

May 31, 2011 — Luca Gianni, MD, a researcher who has helped define new treatments for breast cancer, will receive the 2011 Gianni Bonadonna Breast Cancer Award and Lecture from the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).

The award will be bestowed in September at the 2011 Breast Cancer Symposium in San Francisco, California.

Dr. Gianni is director of the Department of Medical Oncology and head of the project of development of new drugs and innovative therapies in solid tumors at the San Raffaele Cancer Center, in Milan, Italy.

Dr. Luca Gianni

ASCO said the award honors Dr. Gianni's research on the pharmacology of paclitaxel and the mechanisms of drug–drug enhancement with doxorubicin. He has also played a significant role in the development of HER2-directed therapies for breast cancer by designing and conducting collaborative neoadjuvant clinical trials with trastuzumab and pertuzumab

"His work in the pharmacology of paclitaxel and his contributions to HER2-directed breast cancer therapy is the basis for ASCO's award to one of Dr. Bonadonna's protégés in clinical breast cancer research," Douglas W. Blayney, MD, professor of medicine at Stanford School of Medicine in California, told Medscape Medical News. "As with the other recipients of this year's awards, Dr. Gianni has made outstanding contributions to the oncology field, and it is an honor to bestow one of ASCO's highest achievement awards."

Based in Milan

Dr. Gianni earned his medical degree from the University of Milan in 1976. He was a visiting fellow in the section of biochemical pharmacology at the National Cancer Institute's Clinical Pharmacology Branch from 1980 to 1983, and remained a consultant to the Branch until 1992.

He returned to Milan in 1983.

"I grew up in Milan and I have very strong ties here," he told Medscape Medical News. "Contrary to what happens in the United States, you don't move around much here. Where you were born, you study, and you grow, and you stay and live your professional career [in one place]. Family ties are especially strong here."

Dr. Gianni's father was a doctor, as were his older brother and one of his sisters. Despite the best efforts of his father, who wanted him to go into law or philosophy, young Luca chose a career in medicine. He was especially intrigued by pharmacology.

"My family was very liberal, and even though my father did his best to convince me to go into law or philosophy, in the end he decided that if I wanted to go into medicine, then that is what I should do," he recalled.

Dr. Gianni's first interest has always been learning about how drugs work. He says it was just by chance that he ended up working with oncology drugs; that was thanks to famed oncology researcher Gianni Bonadonna, the namesake of his award.

"I was doing internal medicine and Gianni Bonadonna was looking for young fellows in his laboratory. He asked me if I would be interested in a fellowship, so that was the starting point," Dr. Gianni explained.

Unfortunately, he wasn't interested in oncology at the time.

"I had a very frank discussion with Dr. Bonadonna and told him I was pleased with his offer of a fellowship, but I had no interest in oncology, except for the opportunity it might afford of going abroad and spending some time in a laboratory. So he said, 'OK, I will make sure that you spend some time in a laboratory,' and that was the reason behind my decision to accept," Dr. Gianni said.

His proudest achievement has been his involvement in the design of clinical studies for the optimal use of trastuzumab (Herceptin), including the Neo-Adjuvant Herceptin (NOAH) trial, the Neoadjuvant Study of Pertuzumab and Herceptin in an Early Regimen Evaluation (NEOSPHERE) phase 2 trial, and the Herceptin Adjuvant (HERA) trial.

In what little spare time he has, Dr. Gianni likes to sail. Reading is another passion. He also enjoys spending time with his family, who all live in Milan.

"I have 2 grown children. One is in law school and the other is in medical school," he told Medscape Medical News. "I did with her exactly what my father did with me; I tried to convince her to do something else. But I did not succeed," he said with a laugh. "Medicine is a wonderful profession, but some aspects are so demanding that they can become destructive of your personal life. Still, I think it is a fantastic field."

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