Aug 15, 2016
By Hilary Adams, Staff Writer
Bruce E. Johnson, MD, FASCO, began his term as ASCO President- Elect in June 2016 and will serve as 2017-2018 President. A thoracic cancer specialist, Dr. Johnson is chief clinical research officer and institute physician at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. He currently directs the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center Lung Cancer Program, a cooperative effort that includes seven Harvard-affiliated schools and institutions.
AC: How did you react when you learned that you had been selected as President-Elect?
BEJ: I got a message from [Immediate Past President] Julie M. Vose, MD, MBA, FASCO, saying that she wanted to talk to me. We ended up connecting on a Saturday morning, and it was a very pleasant surprise to receive the news at home with my family. I had thought about potentially serving as ASCO President for several years, and it was one of the happier moments of my professional career. Dr. Vose also spoke quite a bit about how the responsibilities would have a significant impact on several years of my life—as far as I was concerned, in a good way.
AC: What unique perspective and experience will you bring to the ASCO leadership?
BEJ: I’m still a doctor who sees patients and treats people with lung cancer and other thoracic malignancies. I’ve also been involved in laboratory research for 30 years. I was part of the group that discovered an association between the genetic change in EGFR and response to EGFR TKIs. Making discoveries and incorporating them into the practice of oncology has transformed the care of this subset of patients. This is an example of how I have witnessed the transformation of patient care by what we call either personalized or precision medicine.
On a personal note, the first paper I ever wrote, which was published in 1985, was a study of patients surviving small cell lung cancer for 5 years or longer. This year, one of the fellows I work with, Jessica Lin, MD, AB, wrote an article on patients surviving EGFR-mutant lung cancer for 5 years. The rate is about four times higher than what would be expected from the population data of patients with advanced lung cancer. It was nice to be able to put that exclamation point on the way my research has helped transform the outcome for some of our patients. I will bring the experience of observing discoveries in the lab having a direct impact on patient care to my ASCO Presidency.
AC: You have served on numerous ASCO committees since you joined in 1986. What are some of the highlights of your volunteer service?
BEJ: I have been Chair of both the Cancer Communications Committee and the Cancer Education Committee. I was Chair of the Cancer Communications Committee first, so that was my initial experience. It was helpful in not only my professional life but also in my personal life. Preparing for meetings with the media and the ability to speak publicly in a meaningful way carries over into many other professional aspects of one’s life. The biggest thing it taught me was to be very well prepared and make certain that I was quite confident in what I was going to be speaking about before I started talking. Good preparation is 90% of sharing a clear and concise message.
The other piece was being Chair of the Cancer Education Committee. There, I identified the people with whom I wanted to work. The ASCO President, who at the time was Nancy E. Davidson, MD, FASCO, and I populated the committee. We also collaborated with the academic and community practice doctors to be able to provide information that was useful in both settings. Our team worked with the Chair of the Scientific Program Committee, the ASCO President, and ASCO staff to help organize meetings and to ensure that we had the breadth and depth of information needed for each meeting.
AC: What are some issues on which you hope to have an impact during your term?
BEJ: I’m very interested in expanding the potential benefits of precision medicine into community practices. Precision medicine has transformed care for subsets of our patients in the academic setting. I’m a firm believer that the proportion of patients benefiting from precision medicine is going to rise and that the treatments are going to become increasingly more effective. Precision medicine needs to be made available outside the academic centers, and ASCO’s CancerLinQ™ system is well positioned to make this happen and to monitor the impact.
The other initiative I’m interested in actually began more than 5 years ago, and that is to streamline the pathways and guidelines process. We need to work to have a relatively comprehensive system, and we need to make sure it is updated on a regular basis so that it is meaningful to our patients and our members.
AC: You received the Conquer Cancer Foundation of ASCO Translational Research Professorship in 2008. As a long-time mentor and teacher, how do you hope to serve young professional members during your term?
BEJ: One of the things that I take great pride in is the people with whom I continue to work. Two of the people for whom I played a part in training are now heads of two of the biggest lung cancer programs in the country—Pasi A. Jänne, MD, PhD, at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and John V. Heymach, MD, PhD, at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. These are two people who initially worked with me and have now gone on to leadership roles. I’ve trained eight different professors of medicine from around the world, and I am very proud of this legacy.
I’ve also been involved in organizing grant-writing sessions for ASCO, helping to introduce a grant-writing seminar for early-career faculty members at the ASCO Annual Meeting. ASCO provides opportunities to have an impact on developing early-career faculty members at the national level, allowing them to participate in both the Annual Meeting and the Leadership Development Program. At the same time that I was elected to this position, Arti Hurria, MD, became the first graduate of the Leadership Development Program to become an ASCO Board Member. So I’m very enthusiastic about being able to identify and help foster the careers of the faculty members participating in ASCO activities. Developing the next generation of researchers is the key to the continued success in developing new therapies, and I plan to continue strong educational initiatives for early-career investigators.