ASCO Remembers Pioneering Clinical Researcher Dr. John Mendelsohn

Jan 08, 2019

ASCO and the oncology community mourn the loss of John Mendelsohn, MD, who passed away on January 7, 2019, 15 months after being diagnosed with glioblastoma. He was 82.

"John was always a great supporter of young investigators. As with so many others of my generation, he provided me with opportunity coupled with advice and counsel, always with a twinkle in his eye! His influence on the careers of so many of us and, in turn, his impact on so many thousands of patients over the years through his own remarkable scientific contributions, cannot be overstated. He will be missed and he will be remembered,” said ASCO CEO Clifford A. Hudis, MD, FACP, FASCO.

Dr. Mendelsohn was a leader in innovative cancer research and will be remembered for his groundbreaking work related to growth factors. Partnering with Dr. Gordon Sato and other collaborators, Dr. Mendelsohn produced monoclonal antibody 225, which inhibited human cancer cell proliferation by blocking the signaling pathways that are activated by epidermal growth factor receptors. Antibody 225, now known as cetuximab, was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2004 for the treatment of colon cancer and in 2006 for head and neck cancer. Dr. Mendelsohn’s discovery and subsequent research in this area led to the development of an entirely new class of agents that have transformed cancer treatment.

ASCO honored Dr. Mendelsohn for his significant contributions to oncology with the 2002 David A. Karnofsky Award and Lecture and the 2018 Distinguished Achievement Award. He served as the 2002-2003 chair of ASCO’s Molecular Oncology Task Force and as a member of the Special Awards Selection Committee and Cancer Education Committee, among others.

"John was an inspirational leader, an innovative scientist, a dedicated mentor, and a great friend. He was the personification of 'class act' in every way," said ASCO chief medical officer Richard L. Schilsky, MD, FACP, FSCT, FASCO. 

Dr. Mendelsohn was born in 1936 in Cincinnati, OH. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Harvard College in 1958, where he was the first undergraduate student to work in the laboratory of future Nobel Prize winner Dr. James D. Watson. After his undergraduate studies, Dr. Mendelson spent a year at the University of Glasgow as a Fulbright Scholar, then returned to Harvard to earn his medical degree in 1963. He completed his residency at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and fellowships at the National Institutes of Health and Washington University Medical School in St. Louis.

In 1970, he joined the University of California San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine faculty and went on to serve as founding director of what is today the UCSD Moores Cancer Center. He left UCSD in 1985 to chair the Department of Medicine at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, where he held several positions at that institution and at Weill Cornell Medicine. In 1996, Dr. Mendelsohn accepted the position of president of MD Anderson Cancer Center, a role he held until 2011. He retired from MD Anderson in 2018. (Read more about Dr. Mendelsohn’s leadership and legacy at MD Anderson.)

Dr. Mendelsohn is survived by his wife, three sons, and eight grandchildren. 

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