Leader in Genitourinary Oncology, Nicholas J. Vogelzang, MD, FACP, FASCO, Dies at 72

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Nicholas J. Vogelzang, MD, FACP, FASCO, an expert in the treatment of patients with renal cell carcinoma, died on September 20, 2022. Dr. Vogelzang was 72 years old.

Son of a Preacher

Dr. Vogelzang was born on December 13, 1949, in Holland, Michigan, the oldest of seven children, in a close-knit family guided by the values of the Christian Reformed Church. His father worked as a preacher in that faith, and his mother was an elementary school teacher who believed strongly in helping the underserved populations. His parent’s adventurous spirit and deep sense of civic contribution led to a somewhat unconventional upbringing.

Nicholas J. Vogelzang, MD, FACP, FASCO

Nicholas J. Vogelzang, MD, FACP, FASCO

When Dr. Vogelzang was 5, his family moved to Utah to start churches, a school, and a mission for Native Americans. As part of the family’s commitment to helping members of their small, new community, Dr. Vogelzang recalled in a past interview that they would often have those who were less fortunate, were new to this country, or were suffering with substance abuse issues stay in their family home.

Dr. Vogelzang showed a precocious gift for science and math, excelling at both throughout his early school years. During an interview, he also credited his father’s unending curiosity for his passion of science and learning. “My dad would bring home, from a coal-miner friend, big casts of dinosaur bones—a claw or femur from a triceratops—for dinnertime conversation pieces. My dad had a fondness for taking us to manufacturing plants, mining facilities, and logging activities. We went to see the Crazy Horse Memorial in South Dakota; interviewed its sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowski; and sat under the arm of Crazy Horse in the Black Hills. It was fascinating.”

An Ethical Framework Guides a Career

Dr. Vogelzang entered Trinity Christian College, where he majored in biology with a double minor in chemistry and philosophy. What he learned about philosophy, he said, has affected his outlook ever since. “It gave me a real guiding light to understand that each of us stands on a certain set of ethical and spiritual principles, and we have to choose what we believe. Out of that belief come our science and our business and our practical life. Where we start and what our core beliefs are influence everything in the rest of our lives.”

Dr. Vogelzang received his medical degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago and completed his internship and residency in internal medicine at Rush University Medical Center. By then, early exposure to patients with cancer and the scientific challenges posed by the field had fueled a passion for oncology, which accelerated during a fellowship in medical oncology at the University of Minnesota.

At the beginning of his career, Dr. Vogelzang served as Professor of Medicine and Urologic Surgery at the University of Chicago, also serving as Chair of Genitourinary Oncology as well as Director for the University of Chicago Cancer Research Center. He would have many firsts during his stellar career, such as being named the inaugural editor of the Textbook of Genitourinary Oncology, the first major textbook to center on the field of genitourinary oncology from the joint perspectives of the molecular biologist, pathologist, oncologist, and urologist. He remained its lead editor until his retirement.

Cofounder of the National Kidney Cancer Association

Dr. Vogelzang realized that his patients could derive certain benefits from meeting other patients with kidney cancer. So, the enterprising young oncologist began hosting informal wine and cheese gatherings at the hospital’s boardroom. One patient, Eugene Schonfeld, recognized the value of these gatherings, and in 1990, around Dr. Vogelzang’s kitchen table, they drew up the papers to incorporate the National Kidney Cancer Association, later known as the Kidney Cancer Association (KCA). With a mission to advance science that could cure kidney cancer and support patients and families through the difficult kidney cancer journey, the KCA was the first organization of its kind in the United States. Dr. Vogelzang was cofounder of the KCA in 1990 and served on its Board of Directors from its founding until his retirement on March 1, 2022. In his retirement speech, he said: “When we first started meeting, we didn’t predict the KCA would become a worldwide organization. It just dawned on me that these patients needed a community, a place to share war stories. Our meetings were always packed; we knew we’d tapped into an unmet medical need.”

A Legacy in Oncology Research

In 2004, Dr. Vogelzang moved to Nevada and became Head of Genitourinary Oncology and Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of Nevada School of Medicine in Las Vegas and Reno. Dr. Vogelzang joined the Comprehensive Cancer Centers of Nevada in 2009 as a medical oncologist and became Director of the Nevada Cancer Institute. He would later also serve as Chair and Medical Director of the Developmental Therapeutics and Genitourinary Committees for US Oncology Research.

Dr. Vogelzang was a distinguished lecturer who authored or coauthored more than 400 journal articles, in addition to numerous book chapters and abstracts. He was the principal or co-principal investigator on multiple clinical trials that led to the regulatory approval of several new cancer therapeutics, including atezolizumab, pemetrexed, abiraterone, mitoxantrone, and radium-223 dichloride.

In addition, here are some comments from his associates at the Prostate Cancer Foundation: “Dr. Vogelzang was highly regarded by his peers and patients in the cancer community for his clinical practice, research efforts, and career-long dedication to advancing cancer therapies and treatments. Over the course of his career, Dr. Vogelzang built an amazing legacy in oncology research and care, one that can be measured in lives transformed, among both his colleagues and his patients.”

Tribute From a Colleague

On news of Dr. Vogelzang’s death, tributes came in from around the globe. They were summed up aptly by one of his friends and colleagues, Charles D. Blanke, MD, FACP, FASCO, SWOG Group Chair and Professor of Medicine at the Knight Cancer Institute of Oregon Health & Science University: 

“Nick was a warm, caring, professional and knowledgeable to a fault. He was an amazing physician and researcher. I turned to him when a personal friend developed a cancer within his area of expertise. Although most of us are fairly willing to give advice, his thoroughness of follow-up on my friend’s case was a brilliant model for physicians everywhere. Nick’s response wasn’t just routine or what was expected—he truly wanted to help this patient he had never met and went out of his way to make sure the patient and family knew every possible option for care. Of course, he offered to see my friend the next day. That warmth and thoroughness have helped make him much loved among both patients and colleagues throughout the oncology community.”