The American Society of Clinical Oncology has selected James R. Downing, president and chief executive officer of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, for the 2019 Pediatric Oncology Award and Lecture. He is being recognized for his scientific achievements and leadership in the field of pediatric oncology.
Downing will receive the award June 2 in Chicago during ASCO’s annual meeting, where he will also present his lecture “The Molecular Pathology of Pediatric Cancer.” ASCO has about 40,000 members and is the world’s leading professional organization for physicians who care for people with cancer.
In announcing the award, ASCO officials cited Downing’s “exceptional achievement, outstanding work and dedication to this field and advancing care for pediatric patients with cancer.”
Downing is a physician scientist who has dedicated more than two decades to uncovering the genetic basis of childhood cancer. His lecture will focus on how recent progress in understanding the molecular landscape of childhood cancer can be used to benefit cancer patients of all ages and raise global cancer cure rates.
Downing has played a key role in that progress. He was instrumental in creating the Pediatric Cancer Genome Project (PCGP), which has produced groundbreaking discoveries involving some of the least understood and most aggressive pediatric cancers and the degenerative disorder commonly called Lou Gehrig disease. Launched in 2010, the project and has sequenced the normal and cancer genomes of more than 800 young cancer patients. In 2012, TIME magazine named the project one of the top 10 medical breakthroughs. In 2013, Downing was a finalist on TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world. The PCGP has also produced new computational tools that benefit the broader field of genomic medicine.
As St. Jude president and CEO, Downing is the architect of a six-year strategic plan to expand St. Jude clinical care and research programs throughout the country and around the world.
Those efforts include the creation of St. Jude Global, which includes a $100 million investment to transform pediatric cancer care in low- to moderate-income nations that are home to 80 percent of childhood cancer patients, but where cure rates still lag. Within the next decade, St. Jude Global aims to influence treatment of 30 percent of pediatric cancer patients. Through worldwide collaborations, the institution is working to raise survival rates from 20 percent to 60 percent for six of most common childhood cancers by 2030.
"When I entered the field of hematopathology more than 30 years ago, there were many unknowns about childhood cancer, particularly why it occurs and how to best treat it,” Downing said. “Since then, many strides have been made in the research and treatment of childhood cancer. I am honored to have contributed. I share this recognition with my colleagues at St. Jude who work so diligently to accelerate progress for children with cancer.”
Downing is the sixth St. Jude researcher to receive ASCO’s Pediatric Oncology Award since 2002 when it was first presented. The other recipients are Leslie Robison, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Cancer Control; William E. Evans, Pharm.D., former CEO and member of the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences; Mary Relling, Pharm.D., chair of the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences; Ching-Hon Pui, M.D., chair of the Department of Oncology; and the late Larry Kun, M.D.
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 St. Jude on social media at @stjuderesearch.