Alan F. List, MD, president and CEO of the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, has made many contributions to hematology. List remains focused on what he has to offer the hematology field, so, last December, when he was recognized with the 2016 Celgene Career Achievement Award, he was humbly grateful.
Celgene is committed to supporting investigators who conduct hematology research and has established the Celgene Awards, comprised of the Career Achievement Award, Young Investigator Award, and Future Leaders in Hematology Award to recognize those investigators who have made significant contributions to hematology research. In addition to acknowledging the winners, the recipients’ institutions receive a grant from Celgene to continue efforts in hematology research and education. An independent selection committee selects the institution based on the submissions received.
As nominations are being accepted for the 2017 Celgene Awards for Clinical Research in Hematology, Dr. List shares what continues to excite him about the hematology field, what he attributes his success to and where he thinks research is headed.
What did the recognition of your research through the Celgene 2016 Award mean to you?
“This award is a recognition of all the work that my collaborators and I have done together. Nothing that I have achieved thus far has been the result of one individual. It’s always been a collaborative effort.”
Which of your contributions are you most proud of?
“Three things come to mind. The first is my work in developing a treatment option for MDS. In 2001, I was investigating the role of angiogenesis — the formation of blood vessels — in the bone marrow of MDS patients. That research led me to explore whether existing therapies that slow the growth of blood vessels could stop the disease from getting worse. I applied for a grant and conducted a clinical trial that led to a new treatment option.
“The second is my work on multidrug resistance in MDS and high-risk acute myeloid leukemia (AML). We tested a potential therapy and took it to a phase III trial. That study remains the only one to show a survival benefit in high-risk AML patients.
“The third is my work to help speed up findings for the next generation. At the Moffitt Center, I’ve mentored some very bright researchers.”
“It seemed that there was so much potential for research in bone marrow-based malignancies such as MDS and AML. Researchers can access the disease directly through a bone marrow aspirate or by simply drawing blood from patients and studying the cells. That’s difficult to do in solid tumors.”
“Also the notion that the hematologist serves as both physician and pathologist creates an ideal opportunity to optimize insight into the disease pathology. You understand the case better than anyone as the physician, so you are more likely to have insights when reading the bone marrow.”
This award is a recognition of all the work that my collaborators and I have done together. Nothing that I have achieved thus far has been the result of one individual.
What were your biggest career challenges?
“For everyone in research, funding is the greatest challenge. It became an even greater challenge for physician researchers like me in the ‘80s and ‘90s. At that time, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) began prioritizing Ph.D.’s for basic research grants and physicians only for trials. It is a challenge to be a successful physician researcher because you have the demands of patient care on the clinical side, but I’ve always enjoyed both aspects. I’ve been fortunate to have great collaborators that have allowed me to explore my research interests and still care for patients.”
What impact do you hope to make as President and CEO of Moffitt Center?
“We haven’t seen any significant rise in NIH funding for nearly a decade. That has been challenging for research institutions like the Moffitt Cancer Center. My responsibility is to make sure that the institution is financially solvent to pursue our mission of improving cancer care. One way we’re doing that is by partnering with insurers and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services as they explore new payment models. We’ve also partnered with pharmaceutical companies that have helped sponsor novel laboratory research.”
What is the future of the hematology field?
“In the past, we have been very linear in our view of science and biology. Research focused on gene mutations over the last ten years has been successful, but we know other factors also play significant roles in cancer. The disease is dynamic and complex, and it’s difficult to understand when we look at one part of the whole system.
“We’ll treat and prevent cancer better when we take a systems biology approach and look at the complete picture of how cancer affects the body, including metabolic and cell signaling networks. Systems biology is going to be critical in furthering our understanding of cancer’s complexities.
“At the same time, for many cancers, we’ve also been treating patients the same way for the past 40 years. If a therapy works, we give patients the highest dose that they can tolerate until it stops working. Then we move onto the next therapy, linearly. In the future, we’re going to see more adaptive therapeutic approaches that are flexible and can change in response to a patient’s tumor at a particular time.”
To learn how to nominate a colleague for the 2017 awards, visit the Celgene Awards for Clinical Research in Hematology website.