The European Society for Medical Oncology and the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer recently presented the Heine H. Hansen Award 2021 to Johan Vansteenkiste, MD, PhD, Professor of Medicine at the Catholic University of Leuven and Head of Clinic in the Respiratory Oncology Unit and its Clinical Trial Unit at University Hospitals Leuven, Belgium. The internationally renowned clinical researcher and educator gave an award lecture at the European Lung Cancer Virtual Congress 2021.
The event also featured a lecture by the 2020 award recipient, Fiona Blackhall, PhD, FRCP, Professor of Thoracic Oncology at Manchester Cancer Research Centre, University of Manchester, United Kingdom, and Honorary Consultant in Medical Oncology at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust. The Heine H. Hansen Award, which honors outstanding contributions to lung cancer research and education, recognized Dr. Blackhall as a world-class scientist and pioneer in small cell lung cancer this past year, despite the cancellation of the 2020 edition of the congress due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Johan Vansteenkiste, MD, PhD
Fiona Blackhall, PhD, FRCP
Lifelong Commitment to Improving Outcomes in Thoracic Oncology
Dr. Vansteenkiste leads the Respiratory Oncology Unit at University Hospitals Leuven, where he has been involved in almost 300 lung cancer trials. Among other achievements, Dr. Vansteenkiste conducted benchmark-setting research on the use of fluorodeoxyglucose–positron-emission tomography scan technology to diagnose, stage, and monitor response to treatment of lung cancer at a time when significant progress was being made in the management of nonmetastatic disease with multimodality treatment.
In the early stages of his career as an oncologist and clinical researcher, Dr. Vansteenkiste became involved in the development of tyrosine kinase inhibitors for patients with lung cancer who carry an EGFR mutation, a targeted therapy that he saw through to its implementation in the clinic several decades later. “Seeing what has been achieved with tyrosine kinase inhibitors for patients with metastatic disease in the past 10 years, it gives me great satisfaction to have been able to contribute to their success,” he said.
Breaking New Ground in Small Cell Lung Cancer
At The Christie Hospital in Manchester, Dr. Blackhall has created a research environment spanning lung cancer biology, liquid biomarkers, novel therapies, phase I to III clinical trials, radiotherapy, and supportive care. Among other landmark studies, Dr. Blackhall led efforts to implant circulating tumor cells into mice and develop what are now widely adopted preclinical models mimicking patients’ clinical outcomes and response to treatment.
Dr. Blackhall stated: “I would like to use this award to highlight the unmet need in small cell lung cancer, where progress has lagged behind non–small cell lung cancer in the last decade, partly because of the difficulty of obtaining sufficient tissue to study the cancer biology, conduct gene-expression profiling, and identify oncogenic drivers that could be matched to a targeted therapy. The possibility to study circulating tumor cells from blood samples has been a game-changer in helping us better understand the heterogeneity of small cell tumors and identify molecular subtypes that could inform a personalized medicine approach.”