A Time of Transition for the Journal of Clinical Oncology as New Editor-in-Chief Prepares to Take the Helm

May 03, 2021

By Rachel Cagan, ASCO Communications

As Tenure Comes to a Close, Dr. Stephen A. Cannistra Reflects on JCO’s Past 10 Years

When Stephen A. Cannistra, MD, FASCO, began his first term as editor-in-chief of the Journal of Clinical Oncology (JCO) 10 years ago, he brought many ideas to improve the journal. He envisioned a shift to ensure papers published in JCO rose to an even higher standard and would immediately impact clinical practice. In his view, if a study could be read by a clinician in the morning, and the data used by that same clinician in the afternoon while seeing a patient, it was JCO material.

“I’ve always felt that it was better to accept the possibility of failing at something than choosing a path that’s safe but without high rewards,” he said about his innovative approaches.

Dr. Cannistra was drawn to medicine and service at a young age. During his summers in high school, he worked as an orderly on the night shift at the local hospital. His father was a physician who specialized in obstetrics and gynecology, which Dr. Cannistra believes likely influenced not only his ultimate desire to enter a career in medicine but also to become an oncologist who specializes in the care of patients with gynecologic cancers.

“Because of my interest in science, I also wanted to contribute to research that moved the field and improved patients’ lives,” he said. “I couldn’t think of a better profession in which to accomplish those goals than medicine.”

In order to achieve his vision for JCO, Dr. Cannistra surrounded himself with editors who dared to think creatively and differently, and who would support the goal of publishing work that was ready, or near ready, for clinical application. This meant placing higher priority on randomized phase II and III studies, especially those that would likely lead to drug approvals by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Established in 1983, JCO published just 10 original articles in its first issue. Now ASCO’s premier journal, JCO publishes over 200 original reports per year.

“Dr. Cannistra’s contributions to ASCO’s most prominent journal will benefit JCO for many years to come,” said 2020-2021 ASCO president Lori J. Pierce, MD, FASTRO, FASCO. “He has definitely been the right leader in the right position at the right time for the journal, and we are most grateful for his years of service to ASCO and the global oncology community.”

During his time as editor-in-chief, Dr. Cannistra developed several initiatives, including rapid review, simultaneous publication (where papers are published in conjunction with their meeting presentations), the fast track pathway, and new article types such as Understanding the Pathway and Oncology Grand Rounds, filling important gaps in the oncology literature.

“One of the things that most impressed me after talking with authors was how much they valued fast and efficient peer reviews, especially for work that needed to be disseminated quickly to clinicians,” Dr. Cannistra said. “Although it required a lot of work to coordinate these new initiatives with our editors, staff, and production teams, everyone understood the importance of providing an author-centric experience, because the downstream result was better patient care.”

Today, JCO is one of the most highly cited oncology journals in the world, publishing practice-changing clinical trials and cutting-edge research on the diagnosis and treatment of patients with cancer. Dr. Cannistra is the fourth editor-in-chief of ASCO’s flagship journal, and during his decade of leadership, the journal’s impact factor has increased nearly two-fold, from 17 at the beginning of his tenure to 32.9 today, a significant accomplishment.

“Under Dr. Cannistra’s leadership, JCO has extended its reach and impact not only through the quality of its content, but also through his support for the editors of its newer journals, including JCO Oncology Practice, JCO Global Oncology, JCO Clinical Cancer Informatics, and JCO Precision Oncology,” said ASCO CEO Clifford A. Hudis, MD, FACP, FASCO. “This is a remarkable legacy.”

With his time as editor-in-chief coming to an end in June 2021, Dr. Cannistra said he has plenty of things to occupy his time. He currently serves as the director of gynecologic medical oncology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. In addition to teaching oncology to new fellows and residents, he plans to pursue time in the outdoors and continue many of his passions—capturing distant photons in the night sky (astrophotography), hiking, and fly-fishing; indoors, he’ll spend some time becoming more proficient at playing classical music on the piano.

Incoming Editor-in-Chief Dr. Jonathan W. Friedberg Plans to Expand on the Journal’s Recent Success 

Dr. Cannistra ends his term confident in JCO’s future, he said, knowing the journal will be in the highly capable hands of incoming editor-in-chief Jonathan W. Friedberg, MD, MSSC.

For Dr. Friedberg, planning for the future of JCO requires reflecting on its recent history.

“It’s useful to look back at how JCO has improved over the last 10 years under Dr. Cannistra’s reign as editor, and it is impressive,” he says. “Looking forward, the first goal for the next editor-in-chief will be to maintain this positive momentum.”

Dr. Friedberg brings a wealth of experience into this new role. A hematologic oncologist for more than 20 years, he is currently director of the Wilmot Cancer Institute and Samuel Durand Professor of Medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center in Rochester, New York. He chairs the SWOG Lymphoma Committee and is a U.S. National Institutes of Health R01-funded lymphoma researcher.

Dr. Friedberg has experience in both sides of academic publishing. He has authored more than 250 journal articles and 26 books and has served as an associate editor for JCO, processing JCO manuscripts on advances in hematologic cancers since 2011. He has also served as a reviewer and on editorial boards of other journals, making him well-versed in medical publishing.

“Dr. Friedberg is a highly accomplished oncologist who has demonstrated excellence in research and the treatment of patients with hematologic cancers,” said Dr. Pierce, who served on the search committee for the new editor-in-chief. “He also understands solid tumors and solid tumor research as well as the numerous strengths of JCO and the factors necessary to continue its growth and reach as a leading cancer journal. Given the breadth and depth of his career, his selection for this role is the best fit on many levels. We are proud to have him on board to lead JCO as the next editor-in-chief.”

Of Dr. Friedberg’s goals for the journal, perhaps most important of all is his plan to ensure diversity at all levels, including among the journal’s associate editors and editorial board members, as well as ensuring equity in the review process for manuscripts.

“ASCO is a leader in this area and I view it as our responsibility to steward that,” Dr. Friedberg said. “This includes not only gender and racial diversity, but also scientific diversity and international diversity, among others. The journal is enriched by having a greater variety of voices.”

Like Dr. Cannistra, Dr. Friedberg’s father was also a physician, a pediatric cardiologist. At a young age Dr. Friedberg would often accompany him on patient rounds at the hospital. Given his current career in medicine, Dr. Friedberg acknowledges these early experiences likely made quite an impression on him. Despite initially studying political science, he discovered a keen interest in biology and ultimately pursued a degree in medicine.

However, Dr. Friedberg credits his clinical training, which included a master’s degree in clinical investigation at Harvard University, with setting him on the path of publishing. His studies emphasized the importance of rigorous statistical designs of clinical trials and the peer-review method, impressing upon him the value of these approaches in advancing clinical research.

Dr. Friedberg received his medical degree from Harvard Medical School. He completed his residency in internal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and his fellowship in hematology/oncology at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. He has been recognized by the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry with a Faculty Academic Mentoring Award, and he has received a Scholar in Clinical Research Award from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

JCO is one of the most visible expressions of ASCO’s core values—evidence, care, and impact—and Dr. Friedberg is a visionary editor who can extend the legacies of his esteemed predecessors during this time of unprecedented opportunity and change in publishing, digital media, science, and medicine,” Dr. Hudis said. 

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