John M. Pagel, MD, PhD

Lymphoma Research Foundation (LRF) grantee John M. Pagel, MD, PhD has devoted his career to studying a relatively new treatment called radioimmunotherapy. After being awarded a Clinical Career Development Award (CDA) in 2004, Dr. Pagel has gone on to conduct clinical trials and publish his results in several scientific journals, including Blood, Journal of Clinical Oncology, Cancer Research, Bone Marrow Transplantation and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Radioimmunotherapy typically employs an antibody labeled with a radionuclide, an atom with an unstable nucleus, to deliver radiation with the goal of killing a target cell. Dr. Pagel has developed a new way to deliver radioimmunotherapy and increase the usefulness of antibody therapy by "pre-targeting" radiation directly to the cells.

"This approach comes after many years of work in our lab," he said. "We have tried to deliver more radiation directly to sites of lymphoma with less toxicity, in a well-tolerated manner. This has potential to turn out to be very beneficial for improving outcomes for patients with lymphomas."

Dr. Pagel earned his PhD in microbiology and genetics from the University of California, Irvine and then graduated magna cum laude from Boston University School of Medicine. He trained in internal medicine at University of California, San Francisco and then went on to complete his fellowship in oncology at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

After learning about the various research opportunities related to novel antibody-based treatments, he became interested in studying lymphoma. When LRF Scientific Advisory Board member Oliver Press, MD, PhD took him on as a mentee, Dr. Pagel was able to narrow his research focus to radioimmunotherapy and shine as a translational researcher.

"It's very exciting to be a translational researcher because it's tangible," Dr. Pagel said. "You can help people today with cutting-edge, interesting and meaningful research being done in the lab and translate that from bench to bedside."

A speaker at several LRF events, including the 2010 National Education Forum on Lymphoma, regional Lymphoma Workshops and on LRF-sponsored teleconferences, Dr. Pagel was also the featured speaker at last year's Chapter Leadership Conference. There, he addressed all of the LRF chapter presidents, speaking about his personal experience as an LRF grantee and the impact his LRF grant had on his research and career. He also took questions and led a discussion on the importance of LRF's grant programs and the impact it has upon lymphoma research on a global level.

"[The CDA] was critical in multiple ways," he said. "First, those awards really allow for young investigators to stay and work at the project that they're committed to and that they want to stay with. Early-career scientists are faced with prospects of not enough funding to continue their research and getting funding for a needed track record. LRF allows young researchers to get experience under their belts so as to go on and get larger grants from the Federal government. They can explore something novel and interesting, while at the same time relatively risky, to generate promising data."

A member of the American Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation and the American Society of Hematology, Dr. Pagel won a Clinical Investigator Award from the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation after being awarded his LRF CDA.

Reflecting on LRF's capacity to make a difference in the lives of people touched by lymphoma, he said, "the LRF understands that we are here to help people today, not just in months or years down the road, and they do it extremely well and on multiple levels. Through patient education or research, these projects have a significant chance to help people."

When asked what he would tell a newly diagnosed lymphoma patient, Dr. Pagel said to remain positive. "This is a time when we're actually gaining evidence and making a major impact toward curing people with indolent lymphomas that we never thought we could cure. There is immense hope and promise for our research, and that means positive things for patients."

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