Chapter 11: The Path to Developmental Therapeutics at MD Anderson


Chapter 11: The Path to Developmental Therapeutics at MD Anderson



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In this chapter, Dr. Benjamin explains how he first took an assistant professorship at the University of Southern California. After an "unproductive year," Dr. Jeff Gottlieb at MD Anderson told him the institution needed a clinical pharmacologist. Dr. Benjamin came to MD Anderson in 1974 thinking he would work with Dr. Gottlieb, who also studied Adriamycin, but Dr. Gottlieb passed away. Because of his interest in sarcoma, Dr. Benjamin joined the Department of Developmental Therapeutics and he took over the area of sarcoma in 1975. Dr. Benjamin ends the interview session describing some of the working conditions in the department. He explains that he took on more patient care responsibilities and eventually eased out of clinical pharmacology.



Publication Date



The Making Cancer History® Voices Oral History Collection, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center


Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The Interview Subject's Story - Joining MD Anderson/Coming to Texas; Professional Path; MD Anderson History; The Researcher; MD Anderson Culture


Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:


Robert Benjamin, MD:

So when I thought I was going to do an oncology fellowship, I asked where the good programs where, and one of the places that had been recommended to me was the University of Rochester, where a man named Tom Hall [phonetic], who was sort of also interested in biochemical pharmacology, had a program, and he had previously been in Boston. And I thought, “Okay, I’ll do my fellowship there. That’ll be a good place for me.” But then when I didn’t need to do a fellowship, I didn’t go there.During the year that I stayed on at NCI, Tom Hall moved from Rochester to the University of Southern California to establish a new Cancer Center there, and so he offered me a job as an assistant professor to help build their program. And I thought, “Gee, that sounds like a good idea,” and so I went to USC for a year. It was very instructive but a totally nonproductive year in terms of doing things, because building the new Cancer Center was dealing with a lot of internal politics and poor infrastructure, and I sort of looked at it in terms of saying, “Gee, maybe in ten years I’ll be able to accomplish something here, but I’m at the point in my career where I need to be accomplishing something now, not waiting ten years. This is clearly not the program for me.”Actually, one of the other places that I thought about for fellowship, aside from Rochester, was here, and I had met Dr. Freireich [oral history interview] when I was still in Baltimore at a meeting, and he had offered me a position as a fellow. But since I didn’t need to be a fellow anymore, I thought, well, better to go with Dr. Hall and be an assistant professor than go with Dr. Freireich and be a fellow again. So I said no to Dr. Freireich.But the other person that I had met when I was at NCI and continued to interact with the year that I was out in California was Dr. Gottlieb. Jeff Gottlieb was, I guess, two years ahead of me, and he had also been a clinical associate at the Baltimore Cancer Research Center. May have been three years ahead of me, but he’d been at the Baltimore Cancer Research Center, and a number of the patients that I took care of when I was there had been his patients before and were on some of the protocols that he’d set up there. And he’s the person who did the majority of the initial work here on Adriamycin, so he and I met several times at NCI meetings about Adriamycin and Adriamycin cardiac toxicity, various other things. We got to know each other, and he’s the person who said to me, “Well, you really need to come to MD Anderson. That’s where you can get all of the things done that you want to get done. We need a clinical pharmacologist because we don’t have anybody who does that kind of work. We have some of the PhD pharmacologists who are studying pharmacology, but they don’t understand the clinical portion, and you would fill a niche that we need.”So when things were frustrating in California, I said, “Yeah, maybe I should come to Houston.” So I came here thinking that I would be working with Jeff Gottlieb, and when I got here, Jeff was in the terminal phase of his testicular cancer and was actually in the hospital in one of the protected environments when I first showed up. So instead of working with him for my career here, I sort of helped take care of him, but had some interaction with him, but clearly it was significantly limited by his illness at the time.But he was the person who had the most interest in sarcomas in Developmental Therapeutics. He was interested in other cancers as well, other solid tumors. When he died in 1975, those of us who were here sort of divided up the kinds of cancer that he had been interested in, and there was somebody who was interested in everything except for sarcomas, so that went to me. So I started basically a major focus on sarcomas in 1975, and I was still doing clinical pharmacology for a number of years.When I first came here, the fellowship here was very similar to the training I’d had in Baltimore where the first-year fellow did the majority of the patient care with, at least here, much greater supervision by the attending staff, but clearly the bulk of the work and the bulk of the patient care was done by the first-year fellows. During the time, the first few years that I was here, that changed. The fellows didn’t want to do as much, they felt overworked and underappreciated, and more and more of the patient-care responsibility fell on the attending physicians, where the fellows became much more either helpers or observers of what happened, rather than the primary physicians managing the patients. In terms of workload, it’s good. In terms of training, it’s not as good, but—

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah. Tradeoffs.

Robert Benjamin, MD:

—it’s what happens. But there was much more emphasis on the role of the attending physician as the primary physician, and so I took on increasing responsibility in terms of dealing with patients primarily but not exclusively those with sarcomas, but much more patient-care responsibilities, and I sort of eased out of the clinical pharmacology area. So that’s a good transition to where we are.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah, and you timed it perfectly. We’re right at eleven-thirty. (laughs)

Robert Benjamin, MD:


Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Well, thank you very much. I mean, this has been great. Thank you for your time this morning.

Robert Benjamin, MD:

You’re very welcome. Happy to tell the story. So what happens to these stories?

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Well, let me just close off the recorder, and then I’ll answer your question. I’m turning off the record at just exactly eleven-thirty. (end of session one)

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Chapter 11: The Path to Developmental Therapeutics at MD Anderson