American Association for Cancer Research

Press Releases: 2006

OBITUARY: JOSEPH H. BURCHENAL (1912-2006)


March 10, 2006


Field(s) of Research: Carcinogenesis, Cellular and Molecular Biology, Chemistry, Clinical Research, Endocrinology, Epidemiology, Experimental and Molecular Therapeutics, Immunology, Prevention Research, Tumor Biology

Past AACR President and Cancer Chemotherapy Pioneer

Joseph H. Burchenal, one of the true pioneers of cancer chemotherapy and past president of AACR, died Wednesday, March 8, 2006. He was 93.

“The work of Dr. Burchenal and his colleagues had an immeasurable impact, saving countless lives of patients with cancer,” said Margaret Foti, Ph.D., M.D. (h.c.), AACR chief executive officer. “His legacy is one of compassionate patient care, constant scientific curiosity, mentorship to future scientists, and meticulous attention to detail in the design, execution and reporting of the results of clinical trials.”

Dr. Burchenal’s medical career began when the word “chemotherapy” was used principally to identify methods for treating malaria, syphilis and bacterial infections. Indeed, during World War II and immediately thereafter, he served as Chief of Infectious Disease at the Harvard Fifth General Hospital in Northern Ireland, England and France, and as Chief of Tropical Medicine at the Walter Reed Hospital.

Upon discharge from the military, Dr. Burchenal joined the staff of the Memorial Hospital and Sloan Kettering Institute, where he remained until his retirement. Throughout the 1950s, his work and the work of other pioneering clinicians at Sloan Kettering led to the introduction of the earliest classes of anti-cancer agents – such as nitrogen mustards, oral alkylating agents, folate antagonists – and to clinical trials using these new agents in the first combination regimens.

In the 1960s, his collaborations with Dennis Burkitt, Herbert Oettgen and Peter Clifford yielded the first meaningful treatments for patients in Africa suffering from head and neck cancers, subsequently called “Burkitt’s tumor.” Dr. Burchenal authored more than 700 peer-reviewed publications.

His career also was marked by a wealth of important advisory roles, as an officer and committee member for many professional organizations. Aside from serving as President of AACR (1965-66), he was a member of the Board of Directors (1963-68), and was elected an Honorary Member of the Association in 1987.

In 1996, the AACR-Joseph H. Burchenal Clinical Research Award was established in his honor as a major figure in clinical cancer research. This award is presented annually to a researcher who has made significant contributions to clinical care in the field of cancer.

In addition to his AACR service, Dr. Burchenal was an advisor to U.S. Senate committees, the NCI, and many other professional organizations. He received a host of awards, including the Alfred P. Sloan Award (1963); Prix Leopold Griffuel (1970); the Albert Lasker Award in Clinical Cancer Chemotherapy (1972); the David A. Karnofsky Memorial Award of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (1974); the James Ewing Award (1975); the American Cancer Society Annual Award (1982); the Return of the Child Award of the Leukemia Society of America (1986); and the Distinguished Scientific Award of ASCO (1994).