Bayard D. Clarkson, M.D.

By Carol Milano





After driving an ambulance in Europe during World War 11, Bayard Clarkson majored in International Relations at Yale. "Everyone was going to cure the world," he jokes. Drawn to neither business nor diplomacy, the native New Yorker applied to medical school and chose Columbia over Harvard.

"When I went to medical school, I didn't even know what cancer was," Clarkson admits. (It was then believed to be caused by viruses.) He remembers that when his professor of pathology had students draw histologic pictures of cancer as they appeared under a microscope, "I found the cancer problem fascinating-and I still do. I knew immediately that I wanted to work in cancer, but my idol, David Barr, Chief of Medicine at New York Hospital, advised me to go into some more respectable area."

Actually, Dr. Clarkson has been instrumental in making his field more respectable. Following his internship and residency at New York Hospital in hematology and endocrinology, he became a Special Lasker Fellow in Clinical Chemotherapy at Memorial Hospital for Cancer and Allied Diseases (the research division of the future Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center) in 1958. In joining the Department of Medicine, he began working with David Karnofsky, Dusty Rhoads, and Joseph Burchenal--three oncologists who distinguished themselves in the field.

"People like Joe [Burchenal] knew everyone in the world treating leukemia then-just a few dozen," he recalls. "They were able to cure some patients with Hodgkin's disease and other lymphomas with radiation and alkalyting agents, but only a few drugs such as antifolates, purine and pyrimidine analogs, and prednisone were available at the time for treating leukemia." Cures were very rare. "By the late 1960s, about 10 drugs had been shown to have some activity in acute leukemia, and we put together the L2 protocol combining these drugs in a strategic sequence based on what we had learned about the kinetics of growth of normal and leukemic cells. The results in lymphoblastic leukemia were dramatic, especially in children; over half the children were cured and about 25% of adults. It was a real triumph."

Dr. Clarkson had always had a tab, and he agreed to become Associate Chair for Research, Department of Medicine, serving from 1977 to 1986. "With 30 or so attendings and fellows to supervise, I spent a great deal of time on administration, but I always found time for laboratory research. In addition to my own research, much time was devoted to training the young people in clinical and laboratory research. Several experienced colleagues in my own lab, especially Annabel Strife and David Wisniewski, were able to carry on our own work when I was involved in administration-now I have more time to do it."

Having run both the Leukemia and Hematology/ Lymphoma services, he began to concentrate on leukemia. "You have to focus: you can't study everything in depth. The more you learn, the more there is to know," he comments. For the past decade, his focus has been chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), "one of the tumors we know the most about but are still a long way from fully understanding. It was the first type of cancer recognized to have a consistent genetic mutation, the Philadelphia chromosome, which was first reported at a meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), shortly before ASCO was formed."

Dr. Clarkson had joined AACR in 1958 and was one of the first on the list of AACR members to be asked to join ASCO. "About a dozen of us at Memorial Sloan-Kettering agreed to join," he says. ASCO's second President, Michael Brennan, MD, appointed Dr. Clarkson as Chair of the Program Committee for the Society's second scientific meeting, with Emil Frei 111, MD, as the other member of the Committee. Dr. Clarkson says he was "able to drum up three papers" for that May 1966 meeting, which drew a little more than 300 attendees. He became ASCO's 10th president, serving in 1973-1974. "ASCO has had a very important role in keeping us all informed about the latest advances in treating and preventing cancer.

Colleague Joseph Bertino, MD, University Professor of Medicine at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, comments, "Dr. Clarkson is a dedicated researcher in hematologic malignancies for as long as I've known him. He's especially made important contributions to the treatment and understanding of CML, and also more recently, the function of the AN oncogene. He's always been a gentleman and one of the real scholars in hematotogy--and a good friend."

Dr. Clarkson has many commitments outside of oncology. He belongs to the National Council of the World Wildlife Fund and explains, "My wife and I have always been strong environmentalists and love to be outdoors." For about 25 years, he was on the Board at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, serving as a leader for 12 years, first as Vice Chair (1980-1986) and then as Chair (1986-1992).

Another of his activities involves Clarkson University, in Potsdam, New York, founded by some of his ancestors as an engineering and science school. "My father and late older brother were on the board. I didn't want to serve when my father asked me because I was so busy at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, but I've loved it, especially the people. It's become a big interest of ours. I've been on the Board for 36 years, including over 20 years as Vice Chairman or Chairman."

Two of the four Clarkson children are psychoanalysts, one is an artist, and another teaches at the University of Pueblo (Mexico). Dr. Clarkson and his wife live in Manhattan.

The author of 426 research papers or book chapters is optimistic about the future. "We will soon have specific therapies for particular cancers. We're beginning to understand how specific drugs such as [imatinib] selectively inhibit CML at a molecular level, and this greater understanding will surely enhance development of specific therapies for other types of cancer. [Imatimb] is probably the best example yet of a specific treatment for any type of cancer, and we already have found other compounds about 100-fold more potent. More progress is being made, with more people working on cancer, and sooner or later, we're going to be able to cure not just a few cancers, but many forms of cancer with highly selective therapies. 1, of course, hope it will be sooner rather than later."

"You have to focus: you can't study everything in depth.
The more you learn, the more there is to know."
Bayard D. Clarkson, MD

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