Urologist to Head
Washington, January 15, 2002 --- Andrew C. von Eschenbach, MD has been named the first urologist to head the National Cancer Institute.
Dr. von Eschenbach, 60, comes to NCI from the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, where he was director of the Genitourinary Center and director of the Prostate Cancer Research Program. A prolific investigator, Dr. von Eschenbach has published hundreds of papers on prostate cancer, cancer biology, and urologic surgery.
His appointment as NCI's twelfth director last month earned praise from urologic cancer academicians and researchers.
"Dr. von Eschenbach is an excellent choice for NCI director, as he brings a wealth of experience in clinical cancer treatment and research to the position," said Richard D. Williams, MD, chairman of the department of urology at the University of Iowa, Iowa City. "He has been a highly successful urologic oncology surgeon, department chair, and top-level administrator at M.D. Anderson, one of the premier oncology centers in the U.S."
"Everybody is very excited in the prostate cancer field," said Peter T. Scardino, MD, professor and chair of urologic oncology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. "He's spent his whole career in prostate cancer, knows oncology, has exhibited a lively interest in cancer research, and is a prostate cancer survivor."
Dr. von Eschenbach was successfully treated for prostate cancer 2 years ago and for melanoma in 1989.
During a White House briefing announcing his appointment, Dr. von Eschenbach said he was "devoted to nurturing and promoting the paradigm of discovery through basic research."
"We cannot rest until we translate our new understanding of cancer into interventions that will detect cancer, new drugs that will treat and even prevent cancer," he said. "Only then can scientific discovery result in saved lives and reduced suffering. And once discovered and developed, we must assure that these new interventions are delivered to patients and communities at risk."
Dr. von Eschenbach replaces Richard D. Klausner, MD, who announced in October that he was stepping down.
Will not show favoritism
Dr. Scardino emphasized that Dr. von Eschenbach would have to be careful not to show favoritism toward eradicating prostate cancer at the expense of other cancers, adding that he would be fair to all areas of cancer research. That said, Dr. Scardino said that the absence of an NCI-backed study section in urologic cancer remains a concern.
"There are a minimum number of urologists in the NCI study groups," he said.
The Sept. 11 catastrophe and its aftermath will make Dr. von Eschenbach's job much more difficult, according to Dr. Scardino, who worries that budget cuts might "co-opt all the resources."
"Research against cancer is like growing extremely delicate orchids," Dr. Scardino said.
Ultimately, Dr. von Eschenbach will be viewed in terms of his largest challenge: selling funding for cancer, according to Dr. Scardino.
"If he can do that amid the budget deficit, that will be fantastic," he said.
Donald S. Coffey, PhD, professor of urology at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions' Brady Urological Institute in Baltimore, called Dr. von Eschenbach "a leader who is able to communicate, who listens, who doesn't assume he knows everything. He also understands the importance of molecular biology, the disease, and the patient."
Dr. Coffey also pointed out Dr. von Eschenbach's leadership in helping to form the National Dialogue on Cancer, a public-private partnership devoted to crafting a national cancer agenda and updating goals set by the National Cancer Act, established some 30 years ago.
Both Dr. Williams and Dr. Coffey said translational research is an area where Dr. von Eschenbach will particularly excel.
"He is expected to continue the great strides that the prior director, Dr. Klausner, made in supporting basic cancer research and new initiatives in patient-oriented (translational) cancer research and clinical trials," Dr. Williams said.
When it comes to federal funding for cancer initiatives, too often, the bench researchers have fought with the clinicians, and subspecialties have viewed each other as competitors, Dr. Coffey said.
"Andy will be able to bring them into balance," said Dr. Coffey.
Dr. Coffey said that he also considers Dr. von Eschenbach's closeness with the Bush family a plus. Dr. von Eschenbach has known the Bush family for several years and has worked closely with President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush on the National Dialogue on Cancer.
Dr. von Eschenbach, who was also president-elect of the American Cancer Society, earned his medical degree from Georgetown University in 1967. He completed residencies in surgery and urology at Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia, then was an instructor in urology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.
He joined the M.D. Anderson faculty in 1997 and was named director of
the Genitourinary Cancer Center in 1999.