Oct 12, 2021
ASCO is saddened by the passing of Joseph R. Bertino, MD, FASCO, who played a pivotal role in the organization's history. He served as the Society’s president from 1975-1976 before becoming the founding editor-in-chief of the Journal of Clinical Oncology. In an editorial printed in the premiere issue, published in January 1983, Dr. Bertino wrote, “The aim of the Journal of Clinical Oncology is to be a focus for communication for research pertaining to the clinical disciplines of oncology.” Today, the journal is ASCO’s flagship publication, serving readers as the most credible, authoritative, peer-reviewed resource for oncology research.
“Dr. Bertino did it all—major scientific discoveries, organization and professional leadership, teaching, and clinical care—with a rare grace and dignity. He made everyone feel respected and motivated everyone to contribute their best,” ASCO CEO Clifford A. Hudis, MD, FACP, FASCO, said.
In the wider field, Dr. Bertino’s best known contribution was his discovery—together with Robert N. Schimke, MD, Rodney E. Kellems, PhD, and Frederick W. Alt, PhD—that gene amplification was a mechanism of methotrexate resistance; specifically, the DHFR gene was found to be a mechanism for overproduction of dihydrofolate reductase. Later, while at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Dr. Bertino’s continued research of methotrexate yielded the discovery that defective uptake of methotrexate and low-level amplification of DHFR caused resistance to the drug in patients with leukemia and soft-tissue sarcomas. This and other discoveries eventually led to new analogues and treatments for these patients.
ASCO recognized Dr. Bertino’s pioneering work in the field by awarding him the David A. Karnofsky Memorial Award in 1992 and the Distinguished Service Award for Scientific Achievement in 2008. In recognition of his exceptionally dedicated volunteer service to the Society, he was honored as a Fellow of ASCO (FASCO) in 2007.
His career in cancer pharmacology spanned numerous institutions, from Yale Cancer Center to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, where his professional roles over his tenure included chief scientific officer, senior advisor to the director, and university professor of medicine and pharmacology at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. He continuously focused on new drug development for the management of cancer and hematologic malignancies, elucidating mechanisms of action and resistance, and provided the foundation used for the rational design and development of anticancer agents.
Among his many roles and honors, Dr. Bertino served as president of the American Association for Cancer Research and received its Joseph H. Burchenal Memorial Award for Outstanding Achievement in Clinical Cancer Research. He also received the American Cancer Society Medical of Honor.
- Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey. Joseph R. Bertino: 50 Years of Cancer Research, A “Golden” Opportunity. Cancer History Project. Apr 21, 2021.
- Cavallo J. Dr. Joseph Bertino's Breakthrough Work in Methotrexate Resistance Led to Understanding Why Cancer Drugs Work or Fail. The ASCO Post. Aug 15, 2013.
- Chabner BA. Dr. Joseph R. Bertino: A Reflection. The Oncologist. 2008;13:1034-5.