ASCO Remembers Oncology Luminary Gianni Bonadonna, MD

Sep 13, 2015

ASCO mourns the passing and honors the life of Gianni Bonadonna, MD, who passed away on September 7, 2015, at age 81. Dr. Bonadonna was known for his paradigm-shifting work in the fields of breast cancer and Hodgkin lymphoma, and has been called “the father of Italian oncology.”

At a time when the superiority of radical mastectomy was being challenged by the development of novel chemotherapy combinations, Dr. Bonadonna led the seminal work which established the benefit of cyclophosphamide/methotrexate/fluorouracil (CMF) and ushered in the widespread acceptance of adjuvant chemotherapy as part of the curative treatment of breast cancer. This pivotal trial, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1976, fundamentally changed the course of breast cancer treatment and brought Dr. Bonadonna international recognition.

To honor his momentous contributions to the field, ASCO created the Gianni Bonadonna Breast Cancer Award and Lecture (supported by a grant from GlaxoSmithKline Oncology) in 2007. The award recognizes an active clinical and/or translational researcher with a distinguished record of accomplishments in advancing the field of breast cancer and with exceptional mentoring abilities.

“Dr. Bonadonna was a pioneer and giant in our field, leading the way in many areas, but particularly in breast cancer and lymphomas. Worldwide, thousands of women with breast cancer owe their survival to his work showing the value of combination adjuvant chemotherapy, and we all owe him a debt of gratitude for his courage and scientific brilliance. He will be sorely missed,” said ASCO President-Elect Daniel F. Hayes, MD, FASCO, the inaugural recipient of ASCO’s Gianni Bonadonna Breast Cancer Award and Lecture.

In addition to his work in breast cancer, Dr. Bonadonna made practice-changing advances in lymphoma research. He designed and conducted the first clinical trials exploring the use of doxorubicin and developed the doxorubicin/bleomycin/vinblastine/dacarbazine (ABVD) protocol, which remains the gold standard for the treatment of Hodgkin lymphoma.

“He pioneered discoveries in the early days of chemotherapy. This allowed combination chemotherapy regimens to be tested, and many of these treatments are still used today. He was one of the most influential cancer researchers for decades, and improved the lives of many patients with cancer through his discoveries,” said ASCO President Julie M. Vose, MD, MBA, FASCO.

Dr. Bonadonna was born in Milan, Italy, in 1934, and earned his medical degree at the University of Milano in 1959. He conducted his postdoctoral training as a research fellow at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (1961-1964). He returned to Italy to take a position at the Istituto Nazionale Tumori in Milan, where he became Director of the Division of Medical Oncology in 1976. In 1991, he was appointed Head of the Department of Cancer Medicine at the Istituto Nazionale Tumori and Associate Professor at the School of Hematology of the University of Milano. In 1999, he founded and served as President of the Fondazione Michelangelo, a scientific nonprofit organization that promotes new research projects in oncology. Dr. Bonadonna received numerous prestigious honors for his work, including the Laurea Honoris Causae in Medicine from the University of Torino in 2004.

An ASCO member since 1970, Dr. Bonadonna served as Chair of the Nominating Committee (1982-1983) and as a member of the Scientific Program Committee (1995-1996). In 1989, he was presented with ASCO’s highest scientific honor, the David A. Karnofsky Memorial Award and Lecture, which recognizes innovative clinical researchers who have changed the way oncologists think about the general practice of oncology. He received ASCO’s Distinguished Service Award for Scientific Achievement in 1999.

Dr. Bonadonna authored more than 550 publications in clinical oncology, as well as medical books for a lay audience and a book on India’s Sepoy Rebellion of 1857.

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