ASH Remembers Joel S. Bennett, Cancer Researchers Win Damon Runyon Physician-Scientist Training Awards, and more

Joel S. Bennett, MD

Remembering Joel S. Bennett (1942 – 2021)

Joel S. Bennett, MD, died of pancreatic cancer on June 21, 2021, at the age of 78.

Aside from a stint serving as a physician in the Air Force, Dr. Bennett spent the majority of his career at the University of Pennsylvania, beginning with his residency in 1967. He was the first to discover that fibrinogen bound to the platelet GPIIb-IIIa receptor, and his research in platelet biology played a role in the development of drugs that block the mechanism by which platelets aggregate, such as abciximab and eptifibatide. Together with Mortimer Poncz, MD, from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, he cloned the GPIIb-IIIa receptor, and identified regions of this receptor that were essential for its function in platelet clot formation alongside William DeGrado, PhD, of the University of California, San Francisco.

Dr. Bennett was awarded the prestigious Ernest Beutler Prize from the American Society of Hematology (ASH) in 2010. He was also recognized for his achievements by the American Society for Clinical Investigation and the Association of American Physicians.

“Joel’s extraordinary contributions to the field of hematology and as a researcher are awe-inspiring. His clinical acumen and his exquisite and thoughtful care of his patients was a lesson in grace and all that it means to be a doctor. Joel was the one who we all sought advice from about our most pressing cases,” said Dr. Bennett’s colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania in a statement.

He is survived by his wife Evelyn, five children, one brother, one sister, and nine grandchildren.


Caitlin F. Bell, MD
(Peter) Geon Kim, MD
Max M. Wattenberg, MD

Cancer Researchers Win Damon Runyon Physician-Scientist Training Awards

The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation has recognized five early-career cancer researchers with the 2021 Damon Runyon Physician-Scientist Training Award.

“Physician-scientists require protected time and funding for research, so that they can bring crucial insights from the clinic to the laboratory, and vice versa,” said Yung S. Lie, PhD, president and CEO of Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation. “Each of our physician-scientists is pursuing research with high potential for impact, and we are proud to enable this critical work.”

Launched in 2015, the award program has funded 33 new physician-scientists, providing $100,000 in the first year with increases of $10,000 per year over the subsequent three years and covering up to $100,000 in medical school debt still owed by an awardee.

The 2021 recipients include:

  • Caitlin F. Bell, MD, with mentors Nicholas J. Leeper, MD, and Irving L. Weissman, MD, Stanford University School of Medicine, for investigating the connection between cardiovascular disease and cancer
  • (Peter) Geon Kim, MD, with mentor Benjamin L. Ebert, MD, PhD, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, for researching how clonal hematopoiesis progresses into blood cancer
  • Max M. Wattenberg, MD, with mentors Gregory L. Beatty, MD, PhD, and Robert H. Vonderheide, MD, PhD, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, to explore fundamental mechanisms of cancer resistance to immunotherapy and identify novel treatment strategies for patients with cancer

Source: Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation press release, May 26, 2021.


Fred Hutch, Seattle Children’s, and UW Medicine Announce Restructuring

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, UW Medicine, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA), and Seattle Children’s Hospital have announced a plan to restructure and enter a new partnership, under which SCCA and Fred Hutch would merge to form a new institution, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, to operate as part of UW Medicine.

The proposed collaboration would involve establishing new separate adult and pediatric oncology programs; shifting SCCA’s outpatient pediatric bone marrow transplant program to Seattle Children’s Hospital; and allowing members of UW Physicians to provide cancer care at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center and other parts of UW Medicine.

“We came to realize that we would be better off if we could explore a new structure that brought our critical care mechanism closer to our research mechanism. And so that is the underlying feature here,” said Nancy Davidson, MD, president and executive director of the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.

“We’ve got all the ingredients you need, outstanding science and an outstanding venture community with great venture capitalists,” said Thomas Lynch Jr., MD, president and director of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. “What we didn’t have was the integration across the clinical spectrum as well.”

Leadership from the four institutions will meet with stakeholders in the coming months to discuss the details of the restructuring, which is expected to move forward in early 2022.

Sources: Fred Hutch press release, July 13, 2021; GeekWire, July 13, 2021.


UCSF Launches Living Therapeutics Initiative

The University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) has launched the Living Therapeutics Initiative, which will enable research and clinical programs to share resources such as information, tools, and platforms toward developing new cell-based therapies for patients with cancer, autoimmune diseases, neurodegeneration, diabetes, and infectious diseases.

The new initiative will provide $50 million in grants to UCSF faculty researching living therapeutics. Additionally, its steering committee will assist with regulatory issues, FDA applications, and clinical trial design.

Partner institutions involved in the initiative include UCSF Medical Center, UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals, the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub, the Gladstone-UCSF Institute of Genomic Immunology, the Innovative Genomics Institute, the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, UCSF’s Bakar Computational Health Sciences Institute, Bakar ImmunoX Initiative, Benioff Center for Microbiome Medicine, Cell Design Institute, Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research, and Thermo Fisher Scientific.

Source: Cancer Letter, June 25, 2021.


Abdul Rafeh Naqash, MD
Amy Yuan Wang, MD, MPH

Hematologists Win 2021 ASCO Special Merit Awards

The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Foundation, Conquer Cancer, has announced the recipients of its 2021 ASCO Annual Meeting Special Merit Awards. These awards are presented annually to trainees and junior faculty with top-ranking abstracts for the ASCO Annual Meeting.

Recipients of the Special Merit Awards, whose work focused on hematologic disorders, include:

  • Abdul Rafeh Naqash, MD, National Cancer Institute
  • Amy Yuan Wang, MD, MPH, University of Chicago Medicine

Conquer Cancer also presented an additional 164 Merit Awards to oncology trainees who were first authors on abstracts presented at the 2021 ASCO Annual Meeting to recognize their research advancements within the field of cancer care.

Source: Conquer Cancer press release, June 11, 2021.