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BCRF Mourns Loss of Longtime Investigator Dr. Angelo Di Leo

With his passing, the international oncology community loses one of its brightest stars

It is with great sadness that BCRF shares the news of the passing of Dr. Angelo Di Leo. BCRF has proudly supported Dr. Di Leo’s research since 2007. He was 58 years old.

Dr. Di Leo has been devoted to breast cancer research for more than 25 years. He first trained with Dr. Gianni Bonadonna in Milan, then did postdoctoral research at Jules Bordet in Belgium, and ultimately led his own research unit and most recently served as head of the Sandro Pitigliani Medical Oncology Unit at the Hospital of Prato, Istituto Toscano Tumori in Prato, Italy.

Dr. Di Leo coordinated several pivotal phase III international trials in new adjuvant therapies. He was deeply involved in the evaluation of molecular markers with potential predictive value for breast cancer. The author of many peer-reviewed articles, Dr. Di Leo lectured extensively at national and international meetings. Notably, Dr. Di Leo’s outstanding contributions to the field were recognized by the European Society of Medical Oncology (ESMO), awarding him the prestigious ESMO Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019.

“We’ve lost one of the brightest stars in international oncology. And not only an established star, which Angelo was, but one who was rising even higher,” said BCRF Founding Scientific Director Dr. Larry Norton. “In addition to all of his achievements in research, he was a stalwart in BCRF’s partner journal, Nature. He was a great collaborator, colleague, raconteur, and loyal friend. We mourn his untimely passing with the deepest sadness.”

Among his many significant contributions throughout a distinguished career, Dr. Di Leo has shown that a gene signature—called RBsig, which reflects a loss of function of the retinoblastoma tumor suppressor gene—is less likely to respond to chemotherapy and may benefit more from targeted, potentially less-toxic therapies such as CDK4/6 inhibitors. His team launched a prospective multi-center, international clinical trial to test the correlation between RBsig and clinical outcome in older women with ER-positive/HER2-positive early-stage breast cancer. Ongoing trials will help inform treatment decisions for the care of older breast cancer patients by indicating which patients can forego chemotherapy for less toxic treatments (such as CDK4/6 inhibitors) while preserving optimum clinical outcomes.

His translational research unit at Prato has also been dedicated to investigating molecular features of circulating tumor cells (CTC)—cells that have been shed from the metastatic sites into the blood stream. As such, they may be more likely to demonstrate the heterogeneity of the cancer, and thus yield more information about resistance or driver mutations. Existing in the bloodstream, they can be collected with a simple blood draw. Dr. Di Leo’s team has demonstrated the ability to isolate single CTCs, and then perform whole genome amplification followed by gene sequencing for mutations of PIK3CA and other relevant genes. This pioneering work has the potential to identify key drivers of resistance and proliferation that could be targeted with therapy.

“Angelo had a quick analytic mind and was able to help others see his vision of the important questions in breast cancer. He was also an exceptional person, with intense commitment to the well-being of his patients, his trainees, his group and his colleagues,” said BCRF Scientific Director Dr. Judy Garber. “We will miss his warmth, his intellect, and his energy.”

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