The long and illustrious career of oncologist Mark Levine is in the spotlight this week as he visits Ottawa for his investiture to the Order of Canada.
Dr. Levine’s work has shaped cancer programming at the local, regional and national level, and his life-long commitment to clinical research has influenced cancer care policies in Canada and abroad. An internationally recognized researcher, Dr. Levine is a dedicated medical oncologist who has spent the greater part of his career trying to improve the care and quality of life of cancer patients.
Levine is receiving the Order of Canada, “For his contributions as an oncologist, researcher, and clinician who has developed a number of new treatment regimens that have become the Canadian standard in clinical practice.”
With a career spanning more than 35 years and multiple contributions across many areas of health care, it’s difficult to map out Mark Levine’s career in a linear path. Rather, one must envision an intricate web where each area of his expertise – oncologist, researcher, clinician, mentor, director, CEO – overlaps, influences, and interconnects to branch out and impact many areas of cancer treatment and research.
Research has been a cornerstone of Levine’s career since the 80s. There are three pathways of research that seem to have advanced in parallel over the past three decades, sometimes interconnecting; breast cancer, thrombosis and projects led by the academic trials group he helped establish, OCOG – the Ontario Clinical Oncology Group.
With his first breast cancer trial in 1982, Levine’s research on breast cancer over the years has included the design and evaluation of novel adjuvant chemotherapy regimens in early breast cancer that reduce mortality from breast cancer; trials that have defined the role of radiation after lumpectomy; development of innovative methods of enhancing patient-oncologist communication; and measurement of quality of life in breast cancer.
Also in the 80s, and overlapping his trials in breast cancer, Levine’s research with patients with venous thromboembolism (VTE) broke ground and attracted international attention. In 1988, he was the first to discover that chemotherapy caused blood clots; a discovery that to this day impacts the care of cancer patients receiving chemotherapy. His subsequent trial established that patients with acute VTE can be treated out of hospital with low molecular weight heparin (LMWH) rather than being in hospital for 7 days on anticoagulant therapy. This trial was landmark and had a global impact. Another landmark trial determined that cancer patients with acute VTE should be treated with long term LMWH rather than the oral blood thinner, warfarin. This trial result established the standard of care which still exists today in Canada and abroad.
The third research pathway relates to OCOG which he helped establish in 1982. In the role of director since 1984, Levine has been the driving force behind numerous provincial, national and international trials with more than 13,000 patient-participants. OCOG is known for its trials in breast cancer radiation and prostate radiation. OCOG is also a world-leader in conducting trials in PET scanning in oncology. The results of OCOG PET trials influence provincial policy.
In addition to clinical practice and clinical research, Dr. Levine also served in leadership roles. In 1992, at the age of 39, Levine was appointed CEO of the Hamilton Regional Cancer Centre (HRCC) (currently the Juravanski Cancer Centre). Under his leadership, HRCC-affiliated oncology clinics were opened at the Brantford General Hospital and the Joseph Brant Hospital in Burlington. During his seven-year tenure, the HRCC grew from a staff of 70 to 350; eventually becoming the state-of-the-art regional cancer of today – serving more than 7,000 new patients each year. In addition, he was the first Chair of the Department of Oncology at McMaster University, a post he has held since 2007; and, he established ECRI, the Escarpment Cancer Research Institute of McMaster University and Hamilton Health Sciences in 2011.
“Throughout his career Mark has been committed to research that improves the lives of cancer patients,” says long-time colleague and friend, Dr. Timothy Whelan, oncologist at the JCC, professor of oncology at McMaster University. “This is evident not only in his research accomplishments, but in his role as mentor for many young researchers and the organizations that he helped establish such as the Ontario Clinical Oncology Group, the BRIGHT Run and the Escarpment Cancer Research Institute to support cancer research in Hamilton and across Canada.”
One can’t begin to look back on Mark Levine’s early career without quickly coming across the names of some of Hamilton’s, indeed Canada’s, legendary greats.
As a young medical resident, Levine worked under Hamilton’s renown internists Drs. Bill Goldberg and Jack Sibley. They were instrumental in shaping Levine’s patient-care training. With a strong emphasis on the patient “Pay close attention to what patients say rather than relying too heavily on medical tests,” Goldberg and Sibley instilled principles that continue to guide Levine today. Levine shares these principles with the residents he mentors, “Taking a good history from the patient; it gives you the answer 99% of the time,” says Levine.
With a keen interest in research from the outset of his career, the young Dr. Levine was in the right place at the right time. Thanks to trailblazers like Drs. David Sacket, Michael Gent and Jack Hirsh, Hamilton was the hub for medical research during the late 70s and early 80s and Levine was very fortunate to learn from them.
Celebrated researcher, Dr. Jack Hirsh was a chief mentor. In 1982, as Chairman of the Department of Medicine at McMaster, Dr. Hirsh selected young Dr. Mark Levine as one of his mentees. In addition to spearheading clinical research, they established the half day in education for the residency program in internal medicine, in which the medical residents were introduced to the concept of evidence-based medicine, the first program of its kind in Canada. A few years later, in 1987, with the great foresight of Bill Noonan, then CEO of Hamilton Civic Hospitals, (now Hamilton Health Sciences) McMaster University and the Hospital collaborated to establish the city’s first hospital research centre, the Henderson Research Centre. That was a pivotal time for research in Hamilton, and the ambitious, hard-working Levine embraced the opportunities and challenges that lay ahead.
“I have been very fortunate to have so many friends and colleagues that have helped me along the way. I would be remiss in not acknowledging the patients who participated in my studies.”
Accompanied by his family, Dr. Levine accepted the insignia at a ceremony in Ottawa on Friday, May 12, 2017.
The Order of Canada, one of our country’s highest civilian honours, was established in 1967, during Canada’s centennial year, to recognize outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation. Visit Order of Canada to learn more.