The Donald Pinkel Endowed Chair of Pediatric Cancer Treatment honors first director of St. Jude and is among the largest endowed chairs in the nation
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital has earmarked $5.5 million for the creation of the Donald Pinkel Endowed Chair of Pediatric Cancer Treatment, which has been granted by the ALSAC and St. Jude Boards of Directors and Governors.
The endowment, among the largest of its kind in the country, honors the hospital’s first director and will be held by the sitting St. Jude CEO. Dr. William E. Evans, the present St. Jude director and CEO, is its first designee. The endowment provides support for the CEO’s research and academic programs.
“This endowment illustrates the importance of research being pursued from all levels at St. Jude,” Evans said. “All St. Jude CEOs have remained actively engaged in research to discover, innovate and advance cure rates.”
Evans’ work focuses on better understanding the genomic basis of childhood cancers and developing individualized approaches to cancer treatment. This involves the translation of pharmacogenomic discoveries into personalized treatments for pediatric cancers.
Evans said that St. Jude owes its institutional focus and relentless spirit to Pinkel. A medical doctor, Pinkel challenged the standard 1960s treatment for childhood cancer with significant results.
Despite often-strident disagreement from many in the scientific and medical community, Pinkel developed an unconventional approach to treating acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), the most common pediatric cancer. His revolutionary Total Therapy regimen, which he divided into a series of studies, combined multiple anticancer drugs with radiation treatment.
At a time when survival was estimated at 4 percent, the Total Therapy approach achieved a 50 percent survival rate and drove important improvements in treating both childhood and adult cancers. Total Therapy also served as the foundation for future St. Jude innovations and contributions to cancer research and treatment. Among them has been a steady increase in ALL survival, with St. Jude having the highest published survival rate for ALL at 94 percent.
Ensuring survival was the key for early childhood cancer research, and that meant highly aggressive therapy. Evans’ research provides critical advances in the next revolution for cancer treatment—finding the right treatment based on individual indicators, and providing only the amount of treatment necessary for success, minimizing side effects and potential later health impacts from treatment. For example, by better understanding how drugs interact with patients individually and by employing more sophisticated monitoring, clinicians have been able to discontinue the use of cranial irradiation in treatment of the disease, thus sparing children from many common side effects.
“I am deeply honored to be named the first Donald Pinkel Endowed Chair,” Evans said. “When I first came to St. Jude in 1972 as a student, Dr. Pinkel was the director, and he was a person whom everyone looked up to, largely because he did not expect more out of others than he expected from himself. He led by example. I respected him because of what he had already accomplished, and because he was interested in hearing everyone’s ideas, even those of a student like me.”
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is leading the way the world understands, treats and cures childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases. It is the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center devoted solely to children. Treatments developed at St. Jude have helped push the overall childhood cancer survival rate from 20 percent to 80 percent since the hospital opened more than 50 years ago. St. Jude freely shares the breakthroughs it makes, and every child saved at St. Jude means doctors and scientists worldwide can use that knowledge to save thousands more children. Families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing and food — because all a family should worry about is helping their child live. To learn more, visit stjude.org or follow the hospital on Twitter and Instagram at @stjuderesearch.