ASCO Remembers Dr. Waun Ki Hong, Personalized Medicine Pioneer and Chemoprevention Champion

Jan 04, 2019

ASCO and the oncology community are deeply saddened by the loss of Waun Ki Hong, MD, FACP, DMSc (Hon), FASCO, who passed away on January 2, 2019. He was 76.

A true innovator, Dr. Hong’s contributions to oncology changed the landscape of care in several arenas, improving and prolonging the lives of countless patients with his discoveries in organ preservation, chemoprevention, and precision medicine. His landmark trials in laryngeal cancer established that combined chemotherapy and radiation were as effective as laryngectomy, profoundly improving the quality of life for patients who would otherwise have been left unable to speak. His research on treating precancerous lesions for oral cancers paved the way for chemoprevention advances in other disease sites, including breast cancer. He led the BATTLE trial in lung cancer, which demonstrated the incredible promise of personalized therapy using molecularly targeted treatments and opened the door for the current era of highly effective biomarker-driven therapies.

Along with his practice-changing scientific contributions, for which he was recognized with numerous awards and honors, Dr. Hong is remembered for his dedication to mentoring, his generous volunteer service, and his leadership in public policy.

Within ASCO, Dr. Hong served on the Board of Directors from 2006-2009, as chair of the Conquer Cancer Grants Selection Committee, as vice chair of the Cancer Prevention Committee, and as a member of the Cancer Education Committee, among other activities. He received ASCO’s David A. Karnofsky Award and Lecture in 2000 and ASCO’s Special Recognition Award in 2016.  

He was a past president and active volunteer in the American Association of Cancer Research (AACR), and is the namesake for the AACR Waun Ki Hong Award for Outstanding Achievement in Translational and Clinical Cancer Research given to young investigators.

Over the course of his career, Dr. Hong held a number of high-level advisory positions related to health public policy. He served on the National Cancer Institute’s National Cancer Advisory Board and Board of Scientific Advisors, President’s Cancer Panel, and U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Oncologic Drug Advisory Committee, among other leadership roles.

Dr. Hong was born in South Korea in 1942 and earned his medical degree from Yonsei University School of Medicine in Seoul in 1967. After fulfilling his compulsory military service, Dr. Hong completed his internship at Bronx/Lebanon Hospital in New York City and residency at the Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center in Boston. After a 2-year fellowship at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, he returned to the VA Medical Center as chief of medical oncology. He spent the majority of his career at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, which he joined in 1984 as section chief in head and neck medical oncology. He led MD Anderson’s Division of Cancer Medicine from 2001 to 2014, when he retired. He remained as a special advisor to a variety of MD Anderson programs that nurtured the careers of young scientists.

Dr. Hong is survived by his wife, two sons, and four grandchildren.


Judith J. Ochs, MD

Jan, 04 2019 8:17 PM

I first knew Ki when we were on  FDA Advisory Committee together. He was so positive and welcoming to me despite my coming from the small world of pediatric onclogy and he being internationally known.  Later I worked for a drug company and went to see him on company business. It may have been 4:30 AM (and I was more than half asleep) but he had already been a work awhile. He was both critical and questioning - and fair. Always enjoyed time with him...glad to see he did have some time in retirement. He was a giant. 



Elizabeth R. Plimack, MD,MS

Jan, 07 2019 8:18 AM

I was so fortunate to be a medical oncology fellow during Dr. Hong's tenure leading the Division of Cancer Medicine.  Despite his many obligations in that leadership role, he always took the time to mentor us as fellows.  We will all remember those early morning meetings when he would grill us on our future plans.  The last time I saw Dr. Hong I was presenting an interim report on a grant for which he was on the review committee.  Although it was 10 years since I was his fellow, he prefaced his comments with "I'm so proud of you."  He always took pride in showing us photos of his children and grandchildren.   His capacity for metnorship and generosity to the next generation was truly remarkable.  He packed so much into his lifetime, but the time still feels much too short.  I am so saddened to hear of his death, my sincere condolences to his family who he loved so much.

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