Tributes to Oncology 'Trailblazer' Prof Gordon McVie

Peter Russell

February 19, 2021

Prof Gordon McVie, whose death at 76 following a short illness was announced in January, has been described as "a true giant and trailblazer in oncology" whose loss will be keenly felt in the field.

Credit: Alamy

He was an internationally renowned leader and authority in cancer research, treatment, and patient care who fought to tackle worldwide inequalities in access to anti-cancer therapies.

His work encompassed 40 years of clinical research, over 350 publications, and positions in some of the leading global cancer organisations.

Whether as a clinician, research leader, or media advocate, he was known for bringing energy, compassion, and optimism to everything he did.

Born in Glasgow in 1945, Prof McVie obtained his degrees in medicine and pathology at Edinburgh University. 

Cancer Research

He stayed in Edinburgh after his studies as a lecturer before becoming involved with the Cancer Research Campaign's oncology unit at the University of Glasgow in 1976.

Following a 9-year sabbatical at the Netherlands Cancer Institute, Prof McVie moved to the Cancer Research Campaign in 1989 as the scientific director, then director general.

During his time there, more than 60 new drugs were taken from laboratory to clinical trial, including carboplatin, temozolomide, Olaparib, and abiraterone, and key discoveries were made that led to the development of PARP inhibitors.

Prof McVie was also one of the architects of the Cancer Trials Network.

He led the charity into a merger with the Imperial Cancer Research Fund in 2002 to create Cancer Research UK (CRUK).

After leaving CRUK, Prof McVie set up ecancer – a free online global cancer journal – with Prof Umberto Veronesi in 2007.

He also served as senior consultant of clinical research at the European Institute of Oncology, Milan.

An accomplished media performer, Prof McVie was not afraid to speak his mind. He campaigned vigorously against the influence of the tobacco industry in the 1990s.

It has been widely reported that a painting of sailing ships hung prominently in his office, was given to him by a patient who explained that the ships' sails reminded her of the tall figure of Prof McVie as he strode through a ward, white coat flying out behind him.

'A True Inspiration'

News of his death drew many tributes.

Iain Foulkes, CRUK's executive director of research and innovation, said: "He was a colourful character who had an extraordinary ability to communicate with cancer scientists, clinicians, donors, and members of the public and inspire belief in the power of science to combat this disease."

Josep Tabernero, director of the Vall D'Hebron Institute of Oncology, said: "Gordon was a true inspiration to cancer researchers and clinical investigators around the world. His seminal contributions improved the lives of countless cancer patients globally.

"He was also a true gentleman, scholar, and a man with boundless energy and huge heart. He will be sorely missed by us all."

The journal ecancer described him as a "brilliant man" whose achievements were "only surpassed by his kindness, enthusiasm, and his love for family and friends".

Prof Gordon McVie, FRCP FRCPE FRCPGlas FMedSci, oncologist, January 13, 1945 - January 20, 2021.


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