Dr. John Byrd has been a beacon of hope and progress for those facing chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). He’s played a pivotal role in developing transformative treatments for this type of cancer and worked to fast-track the FDA’s approval of rituximab and ibrutinib, treatments now credited with giving thousands of patients a second chance at life.
“Decades ago, and even as recent as 10 years ago, people would die from this devastating disease,” Byrd said. “Now it’s a disease that’s treated with a patient-friendly oral medicine where leukemia goes into remission, the symptoms of their disease go away and they are able to live long term.”
Byrd calls Ohio State a “critical component” in achieving these transformative outcomes. He believes the university offers a vital team-based approach of everybody working together toward a common goal — not a self-goal — that leads to improvements in patient treatment and care.
“The teamwork extends from a laboratory technician to a patient coordinator who is checking the patient out of the clinic after moving on to a clinical trial,” Byrd said. “It’s embodied by our leadership, the president of our university and all the way down. Ohio State’s wide breadth of talented faculty has made this possible.”
Byrd earned his medical degree at the University of Arkansas, then completed a residency in internal medicine and a fellowship in hematology-oncology at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and a postdoctoral translational laboratory fellowship at Johns Hopkins University.
In 2001, he moved to Columbus to join The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute. He now serves as the D. Warren Brown Chair of Leukemia Research in the College of Medicine, director of the Division of Hematology and professor of internal medicine, medicinal chemistry and veterinary biosciences.
“John Byrd is a true physician-scientist in multiple arenas — including patient care, innovative therapeutic intervention, teaching and mentoring both physician and basic scientists,” said Dr. Michael R. Grever, Ohio State’s College of Medicine’s chair and professor of medicine, professor of pharmacology, and Bertha Bouroncle MD and Andrew Pereny Chair in Cancer Medicine.
Byrd is quick to envelop his team in any accolades he receives, including the Distinguished University Professor honor.
“It’s an incredible honor and one that very few physicians have been awarded,” he said. “It’s about validation of our team and the work that our team is doing to change patients’ lives and really capture the essence of what Ohio State is about. Teamwork is about attaining the best in our area.”
Looking forward, Byrd said the award will elevate his ability to interact with the president and the provost to contribute to decisions they are making for the university. He hopes to offer a medical and scientific viewpoint to the discussions.
Byrd has pedaled for Pelotonia in the same cooperative vein. As a participant in nearly all of the marathon bike riding fundraisers since it launched in 2008, he enjoys raising research dollars and riding with others touched by cancer. In turn, he’s pleased when his team benefits from funding that supports clinical trials for potential new leukemia treatments.
"Pelotonia helps fund pilot ideas that could be big advances but that we’re not certain if they are going to work or not," Byrd said. “It’s the best day of the year because we get to see all of these patients, families, everybody moving forward on a common mission — to eliminate cancer."