Franco M. Muggia, MD, a giant in medical oncology who played an important role in many advances that continue to benefit people with cancer worldwide, died unexpectedly on Wednesday, September 8. He was 85.
A noted cancer doctor and former director of NYU Langone’s Perlmutter Cancer Center (when it was named Kaplan Cancer Center at NYU Medical Center), Dr. Muggia treated people with cancer for more than 50 years.
“Colleagues and trainees describe him as one of the best, if not the best, diagnosticians they have encountered, and many leaders in oncology speak fondly of how he helped to launch and inspire their careers,” says Benjamin G. Neel, MD, PhD, professor of medicine and director of Perlmutter Cancer Center. “While we take some solace that Franco had a life so fully lived—one that profoundly and beneficially impacted so many—he will be sorely missed.”
Dr. Muggia was recognized worldwide as a thought leader in ovarian cancer therapeutics. He contributed to landmark studies of the pharmacology of many of the most important chemotherapeutic drugs, including bleomycin, nitrosoureas, taxanes, and—what would become his major area of interest—platinum compounds. Subsequently, as associate director of the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Therapy Evaluation Program from 1975 to 1979, Dr. Muggia played a major role in getting these agents into the academic world, where they could be tested widely and incorporated into the standard-of-care.
Dr. Muggia, a professor in the Department of Medicine, joined NYU Grossman School of Medicine in 1979 as professor and director of the Division of Hematology and Medical Oncology. During his initial tenure, his focus turned to women’s cancers, especially gynecologic malignancies.
In 1986 he moved to the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center; he returned to NYU Langone in 1996, as director of the cancer center from 1996 to 1997 and as head of the Division of Hematology and Medical Oncology until 2009. In these roles, he expanded the oncology fellowship program and served as an invaluable mentor to multiple trainees, including many current NYU Langone faculty. He continued as a professor of medicine and a cancer doctor seeing patients at Perlmutter Cancer Center and NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue until his death.
Upon the news of his death, colleagues shared tributes to Dr. Muggia in The Cancer Letter.
Daniel F. Hayes, MD, the Stuart B. Padnos Professor of Breast Cancer Research at the University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center, interviewed Dr. Muggia in 2019 for the Journal of Clinical Oncology’s “Cancer Stories: The Art of Oncology” podcast series on pioneers in oncology.
“I was first introduced to Franco when I was in the last year of my fellowship at the Sidney Farber Cancer Institute (now the Dana Farber Cancer Institute), by my division chief, Dr. George Canellos, his good friend,” Dr. Hayes recalls. “Within minutes, Dr. Muggia was not only shaking my hand, he was asking me about my interests and research focus.”
Abraham Chachoua, MD, the Jay and Isabel Fine Professor of Oncology in the Department of Medicine, professor in the Department of Urology, and associate director of cancer services at Perlmutter Cancer Center, was recruited by Dr. Muggia in the 1980s to build NYU Langone’s AIDS program and now directs Perlmutter Cancer Center’s Lung Cancer Center.
“It was through watching Franco that I began to appreciate that medicine, and particularly oncology, is a mixture of factual knowledge and the art of applying this knowledge for the maximum benefit of patients,” Dr. Chachoua says. “Franco had encyclopedic knowledge, but he was also the ultimate artist when it came to treating cancer. If I am a fraction of this today, it’s because of Franco.”
Another close colleague, James L. Speyer, MD, professor in the Department of Medicine and a member of Perlmutter Cancer Center, adds, “There is a generation of physicians at NYU Langone’s Perlmutter Cancer Center and across six continents that point to Franco Muggia as the reason they went into oncology, often pursuing careers as clinical investigators with the enthusiasm and knowledge gained from him. In my view, his greatest professional achievement is embodied by the countless physicians in the field of oncology who say, ‘If it were not for Franco, I would not be who I am and where I am today.’”
Read more from The Cancer Letter.