Remembering Francesco Lo Coco, NYU Langone Health to Establish Center for Blood Cancers, and more

Remembering Francesco Lo Coco (1955 – 2019) 

Francesco Lo Coco, MD, a renowned leukemia researcher and pioneer of targeted therapy, passed away on March 3, 2019. Members of the hematology community expressed shock and intense grief over this sudden loss.

Dr. Lo Coco was born in Palermo, Italy. After earning his medical degree from the University of Pisa and completing his hematology training at the University La Sapienza in Rome, Dr. Lo Coco completed his research fellowship in molecular biology at Columbia University in New York. At the time of his passing, Dr. Lo Coco was full Professor of Hematology and head of the Onco-hematology Integrated Diagnostic Laboratory of the Department of Biopathology and Diagnostic Imaging at the University Tor Vergata in Rome.

Dr. Lo Coco’s research interest was the genetic characterization, diagnosis, monitoring, and treatment of acute myeloid leukemia and acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL). He published more than 400 articles in peer-reviewed publications and acted as coordinator of the GIMEMA promyelocytic leukemia group. He was involved in influential studies about the treatment of APL in the chemotherapy-free era, including pivotal work that established the combination of all-trans retinoic acid and arsenic trioxide as a standard frontline treatment for these patients.

Most recently, Dr. Lo Coco participated in the expert panel of the European LeukemiaNet that developed updated recommendations for the management of patients with APL, which was published online in Blood on February 25, 2019.

Throughout his career, Dr. Lo Coco received several international awards in recognition of his contributions to the field of acute leukemias, including the European Hematology Association’s (EHA’s) José Carreras Award in 2018. He was passionate about education, serving as chairman of the EHA’s Education Committee.

Dr. Lo Coco is also remembered as a vital member of the American Society of Hematology (ASH). He was the founding editor of Italian Blood and pioneered the launch of the international editions of the Blood journal several years ago. Dr. Lo Coco also worked with the Society’s International Consortium on Acute Leukemia (ICAL), which developed into a highly successful capacity-building program within the Latin American hematology community.

On behalf of the Blood journal, Editor-in-Chief Bob Löwenberg, MD, PhD, Deputy Editor Nancy Berliner, MD, and staff remembered Dr. Lo Coco as “truly a friend in the best sense. He was warm, sensitive, open-minded, and cooperative. His friends know that Francesco was especially proud of his son Gaetano, a young music director, with whom he felt deeply connected.”

Remembering Samuel Charache (1930 – 2019) 

Samuel Charache, MD, one of the first scientists to discover that hydroxyurea could help patients with sickle cell disease (SCD), passed away on January 29, 2019.

At the time of his passing, Dr. Charache was professor emeritus at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore. His career at Johns Hopkins spanned decades; he joined the institution in 1966, eventually becoming director of the hematology laboratory of the Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1979.

Dr. Charache is best known as the first author of the 1995 New England Journal of Medicine paper that demonstrated that the cancer drug hydroxyurea could ameliorate painful sickle cell crises. This pivotal research, which he conducted with George Dover, MD, the former director of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins, represented a revolutionary step in the management of SCD.

Colleagues at Johns Hopkins remembered Dr. Charache as “a notable colleague and mentor” in the departments of medicine and pathology. His wife, Patricia Charache, MD, also worked in the pathology department, as an infectious disease specialist and medical microbiologist, before she passed away in 2015. Dr. Charache is survived by a daughter and granddaughter.

Source: Johns Hopkins Medicine, February 8, 2019.

Brian Druker Awarded Sjöberg Prize 

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded Brian Druker, MD, its Sjöberg Prize, which is given to scientists who have made major discoveries in cancer research. Dr. Druker is director of the Knight Cancer Institute at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland.

Dr. Druker was recognized for his “ground-breaking contributions to the clinical development of targeted therapy directed against genetic aberrations in cancer.” His research accomplishments include leading the successful clinical trial of the tyrosine kinase inhibitor imatinib in chronic myeloid leukemia.

Dr. Druker shares the 2019 award with Dennis Slamon, MD, PhD, a breast cancer specialist at the University of California Los Angeles Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center. The researchers will split the $1 million prize, $900,000 of which is designated for future research.

“I am deeply honored to receive this prize and to join the company of the previous Sjöberg Prize award recipients, whom I hold in the highest regard,” Dr. Druker said in a press release. “I am thankful to the patients who went on this journey with me, but we know there is more work to be done, and our team is dedicated to accelerating progress to free the world from the burden of cancer.”

Source: OHSU press release, February 4, 2019.

NYU Langone Health to Establish Center for Blood Cancers 

NYU Langone Health’s Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Cancer Center announced that an anonymous donation of $75 million will be used to establish the Center for Blood Cancers in New York. The new facility and a state-of-theart program for multiple myeloma will increase Perlmutter Cancer Center’s capacity to research and treat hematologic malignancies.

According to NYU Langone Health representatives, the center will allow the organization to expand services for patients, boost new and ongoing research efforts, and provide more educational resources for students and faculty at NYU School of Medicine. Plans for the Center for Blood Cancers also include expanded lab space and cell processing facilities, as well as additional infusion and exam rooms.

Source: NYU Langone Health press release, January 29, 2019.