John P. Leonard, MD
There is much to be said about John P. Leonard, MD, New York-Presbyterian Hospital Weill Cornell Medical Center. As the Lymphoma Research Foundation's (LRF) Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) Chair-Elect, he brings more than a decade of experience in clinical trials and translational studies to bear on the care of lymphoma patients, who are his first priority. Dr. Leonard has established himself as an expert in lymphoma research and clinical care and he is poised to guide the LRF scientifically when he succeeds the current SAB Chair, Bruce Cheson, MD, FACP, FAAAS, in July 2012.
"I don't think I can conceive of a better job than working in this field," Dr. Leonard said. "First and foremost our focus is on patients. Being able to help people, whether short term or hopefully long term by curing their disease is a great feeling. While we want to help those we deal with personally every day, we also want to be able to develop treatments that will broadly improve outcomes for patients across the country and world – those that we don't see ourselves but may be treated with better approaches we help develop."
No stranger to LRF and our mission to eradicate lymphoma and serve those touched by the disease, Dr. Leonard has been an active SAB member for more than five years. He was awarded a Mantle Cell Lymphoma (MCL) Initiative Grant in 2003 to study angiogenesis and anti-angiogenic therapy, and is a co-investigator and collaborator in other LRF grants relating to MCL and follicular lymphoma. He has also been active in LRF's patient education activities, most recently speaking on an MCL teleconference and at the 2010 New York Lymphoma Workshop. Elected last year by the members of the SAB to take on a two-year term as SAB Chair-Elect and then a two-year term as SAB Chair, Dr. Leonard said he is "looking forward to continuing and expanding my interactions" with people he has come to view as collaborators, mentors and friends.
"The LRF's SAB includes most of the top lymphoma researchers and clinicians in the world," he said. "It provides a great opportunity to interact with them and learn about how they approach patients, what research they are doing and ideas they have on how we can work together to move forward. All of them are as dedicated as anyone I know to improving outcomes for lymphoma patients."
Dr. Leonard did not become interested in lymphoma until after he completed his medical training. As an undergraduate student at Johns Hopkins University, a medical student at the University of Virginia School of Medicine and a resident at New York Hospital – Cornell Medical Center, Dr. Leonard was interested in blood disorders, but was pursuing aspects of hematopoiesis, or blood formation and bone marrow diseases. Upon meeting SAB member Morton Coleman, MD in the late-1990's, Dr. Leonard was asked to participate in a clinical trial with the drug I-131 tositumomab.
"I knew little about lymphoma, didn't really understand it, and was scared by the complexity," he said. "However, it seemed like a nice opportunity and I was attracted by the chance to treat cancer with something other than chemotherapy – monoclonal antibodies."
Around this time, the monoclonal antibody drug, rituximab, was starting to come into general use, and Dr. Leonard became fascinated by the complex disease and similar new and exciting treatment options. Along with his group at Cornell, Dr. Leonard helped develop and study "new antibody treatments, as well as other aspects of lymphoma management including PET imaging, other novel treatments, lymphoma biology and prognosis, as well as efforts to reduce side effects and improve survivorship." He continues this research today, interacting with other investigators across the world and collaborating with cooperative groups and biotech and pharmaceutical companies with the goal of promoting new treatment options for lymphoma.
Two of his most successful collaborations have been with Cornell's Ari Melnick, MD, an SAB member, and Selina Chen-Kiang, PhD, both LRF grantees as well. Dr. Melnick's work with BCL6, has contributed much to our understanding of the way lymphoma develops and can be resistant to therapy and Dr. Chen-Kiang is a "leading expert in the regulation of the cell cycle," according to Dr. Leonard.
"Both have explored important aspects of lymphoma biology that we have moved into the clinic together," said Dr. Leonard. "We are working together to develop new treatments for mantle cell lymphoma and related cancers. The LRF has supported a major initiative in mantle cell lymphoma, and helped us to develop a novel chemoimmunotherapeutic regimen for this disease."
Always coming back to his patients, Dr. Leonard also expressed gratitude to the LRF for excellence in patient programming. "The LRF educational initiatives and patient support continue to help my patients on a daily basis, and the impact of this is quite important to me," he said. When asked about an accomplishment he's most proud of, Dr. Leonard described cancer research as a "team effort" and deferred to the work his team has researched, including FDA approval of several new drugs now available to patients. Mostly, he's pleased with the work done to benefit the lives of lymphoma patients.
Other key clinical collaborators at Weill Cornell include Richard Furman, MD, Rebecca Elstrom, MD, Peter Martin, MD and Jia Ruan, MD, PhD, who have all participated in LRF activities as well. "I am proud that our group has explored radioimmunotherapy as part of initial treatment for follicular lymphoma, assessed 'combination antibody therapy,' studied the role of PET scanning, developed several new treatment regimens that can be useful for certain patients," he said. "I am most proud, however, of the opportunities I've had to help individual patients do better with their lymphoma."
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