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SHC’s Von Hoff honored for cancer advances

In association with its 50th anniversary, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) has named Daniel D. Von Hoff, M.D., FACP, one of ASCO’s 50 Oncology Luminaries, celebrating 50 doctors who over the past half-century have significantly advanced cancer care.

Dr. Von Hoff is Chief Scientific Officer for Scottsdale Healthcare’s Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center Clinical Trials and Physician-In-Chief and Distinguished Professor at Phoenix-based Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen). He is an internationally recognized physician and scientist whose research during the past 30 years has contributed to the development of many anticancer agents that are routinely used in clinical practice. Among these drugs are fludarabine, mitoxantrone, paclitaxel, docetaxel, irinotecan, topotecan, nelarabine, gemcitabine, vismodegib, and nanoparticle paclitaxel.

ASCO was founded in 1964 by oncologists to improve the care of cancer patients. Profiles of the 50 Oncology Luminaries are being featured on the ASCO website, and their accomplishments will be celebrated at ASCO’s 50th annual meeting, May 30-June 3 in Chicago.

Although it is difficult to pick one highlight of his career, Dr. Von Hoff and his team played an instrumental role in the development of gemcitabine, the first drug to improve the survival of patients with stage IV pancreatic cancer. In 1997, they published the results of a clinical trial that showed that gemcitabine not only increased the rate of clinical benefit in patients with pancreatic cancer compared with fluorouracil (5-FU), but it also improved overall survival.

This work was followed by recognition of the activity of nab-paclitaxel plus gemcitabine against pancreatic cancer with the recent finding that that regimen also improved survival for patients with stage IV pancreatic cancer. On Sept. 6, 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved nab-paclitaxel as a frontline therapy for patients with advanced pancreatic cancer.

International clinical trials that led to the FDA’s approval were led by Dr. Von Hoff at Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center Clinical Trials at Scottsdale Healthcare, a partnership of Scottsdale Healthcare and TGen, at Scottsdale Healthcare Shea Medical Center in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Dr. Von Hoff has also been instrumental in the concept of development of personalized therapy for patients with refractory cancer based on using molecular techniques to profile their cancers. This work included the initial clinical trials to determine what percentage of patients could benefit from that approach.

Dr. Von Hoff has spent the past 30 years of his career leading teams in phase I trials and the development of new therapies, first as the founding director of the Institute for Drug Development at the Cancer Therapy and Research Center in San Antonio, then as the director of the Cancer Center and Professor of Medicine at the University of Arizona. He also is Professor of Medicine at the Mayo Clinic and serves as Chief Scientific Officer for US Oncology.

When Dr. Von Hoff was awarded ASCO’s David A. Karnofsky Memorial Award in 2010, he took several minutes at the beginning of his lecture to memorialize all of the patients that he and his team had lost during phase I trials the previous year, mentioning several of them by name. The gesture reflected what Dr. Von Hoff named as the greatest accomplishment of his career: working hard to help as many people as he could.

“I have been extremely fortunate to have many great (and incredibly patient) teachers, mentors, and co-workers,” Dr. Von Hoff said. “Truly though I think the greatest teachers and mentors for me have been those I have been privileged to care for.”