Clinical Trial Leader and Patient
Champion Passes Away at 71
Robert L. Comis, MD, passed away suddenly in his home on May 10, 2017. He was 71. A leader in international oncology research since 1977, Dr. Comis was a champion of patient access to clinical studies in cancer, spearheading initiatives to raise awareness about the pivotal role of cancer clinical trials in cancer prevention, detection, and treatment.
Dr. Comis’ leadership in the field of oncology was key to the development of several therapeutic agents used in stateof- the-art treatment regimens administered to generations of patients with cancer, with a core focus in thoracic neoplasms. His accomplishments and collaborative work, in collaboration with Phil Bonomi, MD, and Alan Sandler, MD, included phase III ECOG studies that led to FDA approval of both paclitaxel and bevacizumab for non-small cell lung cancer. Dr. Comis is also credited with leading the design and implementation of the NCI-MATCH (EAY131) trial, a precision medicine trial across multiple cancers, which completed the enrollment of 6,000 patients in 15 months.
Most recently, Dr. Comis was Group Co-Chair of the ECOG-ACRIN Cancer Research Group (1995–2017), a multidisciplinary NCI-sponsored scientific organization that designs and conducts biomarker-driven cancer research. There he was responsible for its entire scientific program, overseeing the design and conduct of cancer research in the adjuvant and advanced disease setting. He was also Professor of Medicine and Director of the Drexel University Clinical Trials Research Center, Philadelphia, US.
A career practicing medical oncologist and clinical researcher, Dr. Comis served on the boards of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, American Radium Society, C-Change, and the National Coalition for Cancer Research, and on the editorial boards of the Journal of Clinical Oncology, Cancer Research, and Clinical Cancer Research. He authored more than 150 scientific articles, and contributed to more than 20 scientific and medical textbooks on cancer.
Dr. Comis also served in various clinical practice and research leadership positions at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Temple University School of Medicine, Fox Chase Cancer Center and Allegheny Cancer Center.
Bob Comis was a pioneer in thoracic oncology. At a time
when the outlook for lung cancer patients was bleak, Bob’s
enthusiasm and innovative ideas inspired us. Many of us also
had the good fortune to gather around the piano and enjoy
his musical talent while sharing his zest for life.
—Phil Bonomi, MD
His leadership in clinical research continued through his membership on the National Cancer Institute’s National Clinical Trials Leadership Management Committee and frequent appearances as an expert to the US Congress, Institute of Medicine, President’s Cancer Panel, National Cancer Advisory Board, and many others. Finally, Dr. Comis played a fundamental role in the history of the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer (IASLC), having mentored or collaborated with many IASLC members throughout the course of his career.
Noting his contributions to cancer clinical trials, Paul A. Bunn, Jr, MD, stated, “Bob Comis had a huge impact on lung cancer…and on cancer clinical trials. After his training, Dr. Comis worked at the NCI CTEP. This group of distinguished investigators transformed the way that early-stage cancer clinical trials are conducted.”
A NY native and graduate of Fordham University, Dr. Comis received his medical degree from the State University of New York Health Science Center School of Medicine in Syracuse, NY, where he also completed his medical internship and residency. He served as a Staff Associate at the National Cancer Institute and completed a medical oncology fellowship at the Sidney Farber (now Dana- Farber) Cancer Center in Boston.
“I owe Bob a lifelong debt of gratitude. Without him, I’d never have had the career I’ve had or the opportunities I’ve been offered,” said Corey J. Langer, MD, Editor of IASLC Lung Cancer News, in response to Dr. Comis’ passing.” At each step of my professional journey, he was tirelessly supportive every time I tried to ‘stretch the envelope’ and a reality check when I went a bit too far. I am deeply saddened. The world is an emptier place without Bob.”
“Dr. Comis was a compassionate colleague, a dedicated husband, father, and grandfather with loving friends and family who will miss him dearly but remember him fondly,” said Dr. Bunn in reflection. ✦