Waun Ki Hong, MD, FACP, FASCO, DMSc (Hon), has spent the last 4 decades pioneering treatment methodologies in head and neck and lung cancers. He is currently an American Cancer Society professor, the Samsung Distinguished University Chair in Cancer Medicine emeritus, and professor of cancer medicine at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, where he served as chair of the Department of Thoracic/Head and Neck Medical Oncology from 1993 to 2005 and as head of the Division of Cancer Medicine from 2001 to 2014.
Dr. Waun Ki Hong
Dr. Hong’s interest in oncology arose during his residency at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Boston Medical Center in the early 1970s.
“I saw so many patients with cancer and was frustrated that I was not able to provide effective treatment,” Dr. Hong said. “That really inspired me to be a more academic oncologist and clinical investigator.”
Over his career, he has paved the way for future generations of investigators with his groundbreaking research on treatment modalities.
His work has earned him ASCO’s 2016 Special Recognition Award, given to individuals who have had a major influence in the areas of clinical oncology, cancer research, clinical trials, reimbursement, and patient-advocacy activities.
A national and international leader in medical oncology, Dr. Hong has trained hundreds of clinical oncologists throughout the world. He is a past president of the American Association for Cancer Research and has participated with the National Cancer Advisory Board, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee, the National Cancer Institute Board of Scientific Advisors, and the ASCO Board of Directors to shape public policies on cancer research. Dr. Hong has served on the editorial boards of 17 scientific journals. He has authored or co-authored more than 689 scientific papers and edited 11 books, including the 7th and 8th editions of Holland-Frei Cancer Medicine.
A Pioneer in Cancer Treatment
After completing his medical oncology fellowship at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Dr. Hong went on to become chief of medical oncology at the VA Boston Medical Center in 1975. There he, along with Gregory Wolf, MD, began the Department of Veterans Affairs Laryngeal Cancer Study Group.1 The group conducted early clinical trials that showed cisplatin-based chemoradiation was an effective treatment alternative to total laryngectomy for patients with laryngeal cancer, achieving 66% larynx preservation in patients without compromising survival.2 Study results were published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 1991 and subsequently changed the standard of care.
In 1984, Dr. Hong moved to MD Anderson where he served as chief of head and neck medical oncology. There, he began work on another paradigm-shifting project: cancer chemoprevention. He recruited and established a large multidisciplinary research program to study chemoprevention methodologies, which was met with tremendous success. His landmark studies in the 1980s and 1990s,3-6 which demonstrated that high-dose retinoic acid can reverse premalignant oral lesions and prevent recurrences, were the first to prove that chemoprevention can work in humans. Various chemoprevention strategies to prevent or delay cancer are currently under active investigation in the cancer community.
Focusing on the Future
More recently, Dr. Hong has led the development of personalized molecular targeted therapies for lung cancer. In 2004, he and his colleagues employed an adaptive clinical trial design for the BATTLE trial. Based on molecular signatures identified in real-time biopsies, patients were assigned to the treatment drug to which they were most likely to respond.7 Dr. Hong said he believes that this work, as well as other studies, “opened up and galvanized the field” of precision medicine. The future of personalized precision medicine, he said, “has tremendous potential.”
In 2008, he received U.S. Department of Defense funding for the PROSPECT trial, which has already identified several molecular targets and pathways in cell lines that predict drug sensitivity and resistance.8 Clinical application of these findings is underway in the development and testing of personalized therapeutic strategies for non–small cell lung cancer and mesothelioma.
Now in semi-retirement, Dr. Hong focuses on mentoring the next generation of investigators and cancer researchers at MD Anderson.
“Inspiring and encouraging young investigators, clinicians, physicians, and scientists to do more cutting-edge clinical care and research is my objective,” Dr. Hong said.