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Herbert Oettgen, pioneering cancer immunologist, dies at 99

Herbert Oettgen
Herbert Oettgen

Herbert Oettgen, a renowned tumor immunologist and former chairman of the Protocol Review Committee at the New York office of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, died on March 16, 2023. He was 99 years old. Born in Cologne, Herbert received his medical degree and completed residencies in Germany before arriving in New York City as a Fulbright scholar in 1958, conducting research in immunology and training in oncology at the Sloan-Kettering Institute. Moving to Kenya in 1960, Herbert participated in the development of a chemotherapeutic regimen for the treatment of Burkitt’s lymphoma, which accounted for more than half the childhood cancer cases recorded in the country. In 1963, he returned to Sloan-Kettering, and was soon leading clinical trials on L-asparaginase, which would become a standard chemotherapy for childhood leukemia. Herbert, who worked closely with Ludwig’s former Scientific Director and CEO Lloyd Old, became the founding head of the Division of Applied Immunology at Sloan-Kettering in 1970. He played a key role in developing Bacillus Calmette-Guérin and granulocyte-colony stimulating factor (G-CSF) as treatments for cancer patients. A prominent champion of cancer immunotherapy, Herbert ultimately joined the leadership of the Cancer Vaccine Collaborative launched by Lloyd Old. He retired in 2012, spending his last years caring for his wife and applying his formidable woodworking skills to making violins, which were played at his memorial service in May.

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