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Queen's researcher recognized for major contributions to global cancer research

Elizabeth Eisenhauer has been awarded for exceptional leadership in cancer research.

"Elizabeth Eisenhauer"
Elizabeth Eisenhauer has been recognized by the Canadian Cancer Research Alliance with its award for Exceptional Leadership in Cancer Research. (Photo by Bernard Clark)

The Canadian Cancer Research Alliance (CCRA) has recognized Professor Emerita Elizabeth Eisenhauer with its award for Exceptional Leadership in Cancer Research for her preeminent work in the field of cancer clinical trials, cancer treatment and drug delivery, and cancer research strategy and development.  

Dr. Eisenhauer, renowned for her research in ovarian cancer, malignant melanoma, and malignant brain tumours, is one of only six recipients who will be formally presented with CCRA awards at the organization’s biennial scientific conference next week.

“I feel very honoured to have received this recognition from the Canadian Cancer Research Alliance,” says Dr. Eisenhauer. “CCRA has brought together research funding agencies from across the country to develop common strategies and shared investments designed to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer – work that I have long supported.”

Improving cancer treatment
In 1990, Dr. Eisenhauer discovered a method for administering a commonly-used cancer drug Taxol that not only sustained the drug’s efficacy longer, but also reduced its toxic side effects in patients. Her discovery led to a new global standard of care for Taxol use in the treatment of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, non-small cell lung cancer amongst others.

In 1982, Dr. Eisenhauer was instrumental in creating the Investigational New Drug (IND) Program for the Canadian Cancer Trials Group (CCTG), based at Queen’s University. Under her directorship, the IND program offered an opportunity for clinical investigators and patients to obtain new cancer drugs and contribute to their evaluation and development. During her tenure, which ended in 2012, Dr. Eisenhauer presided over 200 phase I-III clinical trials involving more than 5,500 patients and more than 100 new cancer-fighting drugs. Many of these drugs led to new international standards of cancer treatments.

From 2006 to 2017, Dr. Eisenhauer also assumed several other national leadership positions, including roles as president of the National Cancer Institute of Canada; expert lead, Research at the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer; and co-chair of the CCRA. Most recently, she served as head of oncology at Queen’s before her retirement in June 2017.

“Dr. Eisenhauer’s ground-breaking research contributions have fundamentally changed how scientists develop, test, and administer new treatments for cancer,” says John Fisher, Interim Vice-Principal (Research) at Queen’s. “Her efforts to advance potential treatments safely and effectively through clinical trials have led to new standards of care and increased quality of life for cancer patients around the world. On behalf of Queen’s, I want to offer my congratulations for this well-deserved recognition, and commend Dr. Eisenhauer for her exceptional leadership in the fight against cancer.”

Looking ahead, Dr. Eisenhauer says there has been excitement around emerging immune treatments and molecular-targeted medicines for cancer, but she stresses that it would be a mistake to focus solely on a few treatment areas.

“Reducing the burden of cancer will require research and implementation of important findings in all areas, including prevention, early detection, treatment, survivorship, and palliative care,” says Dr. Eisenhauer. “There is a tendency to assume that there are simple answers to cancer, which leads to a lot of funding being directed into a single area of research. However, there have never been simple solutions, so a multi-pronged approach will be the only sufficient way to reduce the impact of this disease.”

The CCRA conference runs from Nov. 5-7 in Vancouver.