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Promise and Progress - Director's Letter

Special Commemorative Issue: The Abeloff Era - Building Upon a Tradition of Excellence

Director's Letter

Date: April 1, 2007

I have to be honest. When I was first told about this special tribute issue of Promise & Progress, I was a little—no, actually, very—uncomfortable. There is no doubt that the accomplishments of the past 15 years are remarkable and worth discussion. But I see them, not as my accomplishments but as those of the amazing faculty and staff I have had the privilege to lead over these years. It has been said that one of the true measures of a leader is the people with whom he surrounds himself.If that is the case, then even I must agree that I’ve earned high marks. You have all made me look good.

What we have built has been more than just physical structures. While it was important to build facilities that gave people the space, equipment, and environment they needed to be successful, it was just as important to build teams. Together, we knocked down boundaries— those physical and those in our minds—to create a truly comprehensive center bringing together every discipline involved in the research and treatment of cancer. Johns Hopkins is so rich in talent that we have been able to assemble world-class experts to address virtually every form of cancer, and we have made real progress. When I became director in 1992, it was frequently noted that there had been progress in childhood cancers and some of the hematologic malignancies, but not much had changed in the common solid tumors—lung, breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers. We now can report that the death rates in the common cancers are steadily falling, and we have not yet seen the impact of recent molecularly targeted therapies. Patients are not only living longer, but they are living with a significantly improved quality of life.

This was already one of the world’s finest cancer centers when I took over as director from Al Owens. We’ve built on that foundation, assembling physical structures and talented teams. Despite our great successes deciphering the biology of cancer, developing targeted and less toxic therapies, converting many types of cancer to chronic diseases, and preventing others, there is still much work to be done. Under Dr. Owens’ leadership, our Center helped define the field of oncology. Over the last 15 years, I have joined you in helping to create a new paradigm in which the remarkable advances in basic science are translated into meaningful interventions for our patients.I am certain that the next 15 years will move us even closer to eliminating cancer’s ability to take lives.