Barton Kamen, MD, PhD
BY ERIC T. ROSENTHAL
Pediatric oncologist and cancer pharmacologist Barton Aron Kamen, MD, PhD, died September 27, from synovial sarcoma in the pleura at age 63 in New Jersey.
Remembered as a brilliant out-of-the-box thinker who was intrigued by science and totally dedicated to his young patients and his family, Kamen loved what he did and did what he loved, according to his wife of 36 years, Ruth, who said he told her when they first met that “there would always be a mistress -- the patients and his work.”
Kamen’s mentor, Joseph R. Bertino, MD, Chief Scientific Officer and University Professor of Medicine and Pharmacology at UMDNJ-Cancer Institute of New Jersey/Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, said that Kamen was his first pediatric post-doctoral fellow at Yale when Bertino headed the medical school’s medical oncology program in the 1970s. “We published our first paper together in 1980 when he was still a fellow, and it was clear that there was something very special about Bart.”
Bertino noted that the two bonded and became good friends early on and continued collaborating through the years. He said that after Kamen graduated from Case Western Reserve University, where he received his medical degree and doctorate in developmental biology, he came to Yale because of his interest in folate biochemistry and anti-folate pharmacology, which was Bertino’s area of expertise.
Years later Kamen would turn his laboratory work into clinical practice as he strove to develop more effective treatments for pediatric patients with less neurological toxicity.
Bertino said that one of the reasons he had left Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center after 15 years in 2002 to join the faculty at the Cancer Institute of New Jersey was to work with Kamen, who was then CINJ’s Associate Director and Director of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology.
“Bart had tremendous energy and was passionate about science. We would have lunch every Monday and he was always full of new information. He told bad jokes, but the kids [his patients] loved him and he would break the ice with them with magic tricks,” he said, adding that Kamen developed the pediatric-oncology program from three to nine faculty members and increased the number of patients and protocols during his eight-year tenure there.
Although Kamen did not see new patients in recent years, he did follow his former patients and delighted in seeing them come back, do well, and marry, Bertino noted.
He said that Kamen was not a conventional thinker and was never satisfied with the status quo and left CINJ in 2007 to serve as chief medical officer of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, until 2009 when he became a consultant to bio-pharmaceutical/cancer therapeutic companies, including Morphotek and Metronomx Group, as well as to the National Institutes of Health. He was involved in developing metronomic therapy for cancer.
Kamen was recruited by William N. Hait, MD, PhD, to CINJ from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center after 15 years as Professor of Pediatrics and Pharmacology and Distinguished Professor of Pediatrics.
Hait, who was formerly CINJ’s Director and is now Head of Global Research and Development at Janssen, the pharmaceutical companies of Johnson and Johnson, said he knew Kamen since their days at Yale with Joe Bertino.
Both oncologist-pharmacologists shared the Burroughs Wellcome Clinical Pharmacology Award one year and golfed together frequently.
“I brought Bart [to New Jersey] to take over pediatric oncology and he also served as a member of our executive committee and had a passion for teaching. He was very intense, very smart, very analytical, and totally consumed by research focused on taking better care of his kids, especially treatments that were more effective and safer for cognition and the nervous system, which related to his earlier work on anti-folates.”
Hait said that there was something very energetic and boyish about Kamen, a sentiment shared by others I spoke with including Ruth Kamen, who said that a colleague’s reference to Bart as a “boyish anarchist” was “spot on.”
Joseph V. Simone, MD, said that he and Kamen “were pretty tight over the years” as they traveled through various pediatric oncology circles.
“Bart was an interesting guy who was really smart and committed, but he approached chemotherapy in a way that sometimes didn’t sit well with the cooperative groups. He was a humane and good doctor who really cared about his patients, and he also told some bad jokes.”
American Cancer Society Chief Medical and Scientific Officer Otis W. Brawley, MD, knew Kamen since the early 1990s when Brawley was at the National Cancer Institute: “Bart was always trying to help people with their careers and gave me advice when we first met. He was always trying to create opportunities for other people, trying to connect people because he could see synergies between them.”
Brawley said that Kamen was fascinated by how science worked, and had a sense of amazement and enthusiasm. He added that beyond Kamen’s basic decency he believed in the orthodox application of the science and believed in developing the medical evidence.
The two became even closer when Kamen was serving as Brawley’s chief medical officer counterpart at the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
Ruth Kamen said that her husband was very close with his family and that he and his entrepreneur/inventor brother Dean, best known for the Segway, teamed to develop an infusion pump for drug delivery, building the prototypes in the basement of their parents' home. Bart also supported Dean's FIRST Robotics as a lead judge for the Chairman's Award.
From the time of his diagnosis in May 2011 until this Labor Day when he was admitted to the hospital, Kamen was determined to maintain his quality of life and conduct business as usual.
He continued working as Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Pediatric Hematology Oncology (published, like OT, by Wolters Kluwer, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins) to consult, lecture, and publish, as well as making time to ride his bicycle and play golf, and according to Ruth, “he made each day a Camelot!” She said that he had been scheduled to present a talk at Princeton University in early September but since he was hospitalized at the time, several people who had planned to attend the lecture visited him in his nearby hospital, spending about two hours with him.
He died Sept. 27, but kept his promise to be there for his and Ruth’s anniversary and the 21st birthday of their daughter Libby, both earlier that month.
In addition to Ruth and Libby, and his brother Dean, of Bedford, NH, he is survived by his mother, Evelyn Kamen, of Boca Raton, Fla., his brother, Mitchell Kamen, of Coram, NY, and his sister, Terri Kamen Schulner, of Wellington, Fla.
His father, Jack, who died in 2008, was an illustrator known historically for his work in the 1950s for such EC Comics publications as Mad and Weird Science magazines. He also illustrated much of his son Dean’s new technology.
Bart Kamen was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Rockville Centre, NY. He spent three years at Medical College of Wisconsin before going to UT Southwestern Medical Center.
In addition to the Burroughs Wellcome award, he received the Scholar Award from the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, and the Damon Runyon Walter Winchell Fellowship, and was one of the few pediatric oncologists to be named to an American Cancer Society clinical research professorship.
He was elected into the American Society of Clinical Investigation, published some 300 articles, and served on numerous editorial and advisory boards of other cancer journals in addition to JPHO.
He was a member of the research and medical affairs committee of the American Cancer Society, a commissioner of the New Jersey Commission for Cancer Research, and was a board member and treasurer of the National Coalition for Cancer Research.
Kamen also served as a medical advisor for the Hole In The Wall Gang Camp, as a consulting medical officer for the NCI’s Physical Sciences Oncology Centers Program, and medical advisor for the Angiogenesis Foundation.