Albert H. Owens Jr., M.D. - Director, Johns Hopkins Oncology Center
They were pioneers in the true sense of the word – blazing a trail for new study of a medical menace and quickly translating what they learned into patient care. When the National Cancer Act was signed in December of 1971, under Dr. Owens’ leadership, this small group of gifted and dedicated physicians was poised to take action. Their mission was to bring a comprehensive cancer center to Baltimore. They faced tremendous opposition. It was a unique principle – a hospital build around treatment and research of this group of diseases known as cancer. The medical community was not ready for this change of philosophy. But Dr. Owens believed that this was just the type of atmosphere that would be needed to successfully treat cancer.
“Cancer is a challenging scientific and social problem of great magnitude,” he argued. “The inevitability of cancer hangs over much of society. Research cures cancer; science will show us the way to control these diseases. Addressing a major social problem, I would say, is a quite proper pursuit for any university.” Despite what seemed to be insurmountable obstacles, his conviction gained approval for a comprehensive cancer center at Johns Hopkins.
When the Center building opened in April 1977, Dr. Owens brought together a diverse group of specialists working in collaboration with the dual goal of developing better treatments for cancer and gaining an understanding of its causes.
He consistently pushed the limits – always willing to explore something new or untried. It was this cutting-edge philosophy that quickly earned the Oncology Center (as it was called at the time) its lasting reputation as one of the finest university-based cancer centers in the world. The Oncology Center was a frontrunner in all aspects of cancer treatment and research, attracting patients, as well as scientists, from all over the world.
Dr. Owens created an atmosphere where new ideas could flourish. Young investigators were given the freedom to explore novel approaches, many of which developed into the Center’s greatest accomplishments. The Center was firmly placed on the frontier, developing the treatments that are commonly used today.
It was this widely-acclaimed success in making the Johns Hopkins Oncology Center a national model that earned Dr. Owens an appointment as President of the Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1986. However, it was his undying dedication and commitment to the Center and its quest to unravel the mysteries of cancer that led him to resign the presidency and return to the helm of the Oncology Center.
Respected as a world leader in oncology, Dr. Owens has given the world findings that represent some of the most in-depth knowledge about cancer and its causes and introduced the most innovative therapies. This reputation for excellence has earned him appointments as the President of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, The National Coalition for Cancer Research, the American Association of Cancer Institutes and visiting professorships at the country’s best medical institutions. When the Governor of Maryland established a consortium to address the high cancer rates in Maryland, it was Dr. Owens he called upon to head it.
Under his leadership, the Johns Hopkins Oncology Center continued to leave its mark on medical history.
(-Written to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Center in 1992 and to celebrate the contributions of Dr. Albert H. Owens, Jr., founder of the Center and a leader of the nation’s campaign against cancer.)
Martin D. Abeloff, M.D. - Director, Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, 1992 - 2007
The Abeloff Era: Building a Tradition of Excellence
Throughout his career, Dr. Martin D. Abeloff had been deeply committed to translational research, the transfer of research findings from the laboratory to the clinic. Abeloff's personal research interests were in the study of treatment for breast cancer and lung cancer. He was responsible for the development of the solid tumor clinical research programs in the Oncology Center in the early 1970s and played a leadership role in the development of broad-based research programs in solid tumors, hematologic malignancies and in cancer prevention and control.
Abeloff received his medical degree from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He received his Internal Medicine training at the University of Chicago and the Beth Israel Hospital in Boston and his sub-specialty training in Oncology and Hematology at the National Cancer Institute, Tufts New England Medical Center and the Johns Hopkins Oncology Center. Abeloff joined the faculty of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 1972. He served as director of the Cancer Center from 1992 to 2007. He held an American Cancer Society Clinical Professorship since 1991.
In addition to holding many leadership positions at Johns Hopkins, Abeloff played a significant leadership role on the national level. He served as President of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in 1991-92 and as Chairman of the Oncology Drug Advisory Committee of the FDA. He was former Chairman of the Board of Scientific Counselors to the NCI's Intramural Division of Clinical Sciences at the National Cancer Institute and a member of its executive committee. He also held many editorial responsibilities, including associate editor of the Journal of Clinical Oncology, editor of Current Opinion in Oncology, and was one of four editors of a comprehensive textbook in oncology, Clinical Oncology.
During Abeloff's 15-year tenure as Cancer Center director, there was significant growth in research programs, faculty and facilities. Under his leadership, the Cancer Center received the largest single gift to Johns Hopkins and renamed the Center after philanthropist and fashion industry giant Sidney Kimmel. Marty also oversaw the building of three new facilities that expanded the cancer complex at Johns Hopkins to include nearly 1 million square feet of space dedicated to cancer care and research.
At age 63, Abeloff died from leukemia in September 2007.