James F. Holland, MD, a Past President of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) and Fellow of the AACR Academy, died Thursday, March 22, 2018, at the age of 92.
Holland was a pioneer in clinical cancer research. His work in developing combination chemotherapy regimens helped dramatically improve survival rates for children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).
Holland was born May 16, 1925, in Morristown, New Jersey. He earned his medical degree in 1947 from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, then served as a captain in the U.S. Army Medical Corps from 1949 to 1951.
After working for two years at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), Holland began a long career at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York. He became Roswell Park’s chief of medicine and director of the Cancer Clinical Research Center. Meanwhile, he continued his work with the NCI, conducting multicenter research as part of Acute Leukemia Group B, which later became known as Cancer and Leukemia Group B.
His work during this period paved the way for the establishment of various drug combinations for the treatment of ALL, including the combination of 6-mercaptopurine, vincristine, methotrexate, and prednisone, commonly referred to as the POMP regimen. The use of combination chemotherapies transformed ALL from an incurable disease to one with a survival rate of more than 80 percent. He is also credited with highlighting the importance of chemotherapy timing and duration and for pioneering the 7 + 3 first-line chemotherapy regimen for the treatment of acute myeloid leukemia.
In the early 1970s, Holland established the Department of Neoplastic Diseases at The Tisch Cancer Institute, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. Most recently, he held the title of distinguished professor of neoplastic diseases at Mount Sinai, and divided his time between seeing patients and conducting research on the human mammary tumor virus.
Holland believed passionately that fundamental understanding of cancer biology was vital for those involved in the treatment of cancer patients, and he collaborated with Emil Frei III, also a Past President of the AACR, to coedit the textbook Cancer Medicine. This seminal textbook, which is now in its ninth edition and published in collaboration with the AACR, serves to spotlight the current state of cancer science and clinical oncology and represents a quintessential reference in the field.
Holland’s career was marked by devoted service to medical organizations. He joined the AACR in 1955, and served as president of the AACR from 1970-1971. He also served on the AACR’s Board of Directors from 1968-1971, and on a host of committees. He was featured on the cover of Cancer Research in April 1994, and was inducted into the inaugural class of Fellows of the AACR Academy in 2013.
Holland had a large and powerful voice which made all his colleagues sit up and take notice. He always participated actively in AACR Business Meetings held during the Annual Meetings. In fact, AACR members would often attend the business meeting just to hear his remarkable voice at the podium and to enjoy his interesting and sometimes thought-provoking questions about cancer research and policy.
“The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) mourns the loss of Dr. James Holland,” said Margaret Foti, PhD, MD (hc), chief executive officer of the AACR. “His rigorous approach to clinical research, deep commitment to collaboration, charismatic personality, and outstanding leadership skills brought him the enormous respect and admiration of his colleagues. He was an icon in the field who positively impacted the lives of patients with many types of cancer, improving outcomes and providing them with new hope. He was my dear friend and he will be sorely missed by all of us in the field. In his memory and honor, we will work even harder to expedite the cure of all cancers.
Holland also served a term as president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and was a co-founder of the African Organization for Research and Training in Cancer. He received numerous awards over the course of his career, including the Albert Lasker Clinical Medical Research Award, the American Cancer Society National Award, and the David A. Karnofsky Memorial Award. Along with his colleagues Emil Frei III, Emil J Freireich, and Donald P. Pinkel, he received the 2003 Pollin Prize for Pediatric Research from New York-Presbyterian Hospital for their groundbreaking work on ALL.
Holland was married to Jimmie C. Holland, MD, FAACR, who is credited with founding the field of psycho-oncology, which incorporates counseling, psychosocial interventions, and medications into cancer care to alleviate the distress experienced by cancer patients and their families and loved ones. These two extraordinary oncologists, Jim and Jimmie, were powerhouses of innovation in the cancer field. They were inseparable, always contributing in their own unique ways to clinical cancer research. Sadly, Jimmie Holland preceded her husband in death in December 2017.