On October 19, the ECOG-ACRIN Cancer Research Group (ECOG-ACRIN) lost one of its most trusted senior counsellors with the sudden passing of Robert B. Catalano, PharmD (1948 – 2021). Known affectionately as ‘BobCat’ to all who worked closely with him, Dr. Catalano served as the Regulatory Officer for ECOG-ACRIN until recently. Aside from Bob’s many talents, expertise, and contributions to Cooperative Group work, colleagues will miss his warm smile, big heart, and outrageous sense of humor.
He first joined ECOG in 1973, prior to its merger with ACRIN, working closely with then Group Chair Robert L. Comis, MD, a kindred spirit with whom he became close personal friends. Often, lively professional discussions would ensue between the two over a cocktail or a roast beef sandwich. It was unimportant that a winner be declared—they only engaged for the love of debate.
For more than 40 years, BobCat applied his broad experience in the areas of oncology clinical trials regulatory oversight and management to Group research. Bob was passionate about ‘rules’ and used this obsession to lead the way with a ‘first in class’ notion of Group-held INDs (Investigational New Drug exemptions). He pioneered the mechanism to allow ECOG-ACRIN to ‘cross-file’ with pharma company INDs. He served for many years as the authorized Group representative to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and obtained more than 60 INDs for trials sponsored by the National Cancer Institute (NCI).
While Bob was a deep source of knowledge, superb judgment, and support for all of his colleagues at ECOG-ACRIN, he was of course much more than this. He was deeply committed to his family, to the extent of taking up ice hockey as an adult to help coach his son Bob in the sport. This resulted in Bob senior assuming the role of goalie, with ice time commitments at 2:00 am and other socially-challenging hours. He had an enormous sense of fun, a quality remarked upon by his daughter Kristen at his recent memorial service—and one that resonated widely among those present.
Of Bob’s professional achievements, ECOG-ACRIN Executive Officer Bruce J. Giantonio, MD said, “His career encompassed many roles and was largely conducted ‘behind the scenes,’ yet his presence had a profound and direct impact on cancer clinical research on a global scale that facilitated improvements in care across the cancer spectrum. Bob’s pharmacology and regulatory expertise, along with a meticulous work ethic and devotion to cancer research, set a high standard for ensuring study participant safety and research integrity.” However, he never lost humility among these many achievements as he jokingly referred to his major pharmacy skills as ‘lick and stick, count and type.’
“He was a mentor to us all,” Dr. Giantonio said. “While his absence is deeply felt by us all in ECOG-ACRIN, his influence lives on in those who learned from him and in the advances in cancer medicine that occurred under his watch.”
Dr. Catalano was affiliated with the Drexel University College of Medicine. He was a co-founder in 1997 of the Coalition of Cancer Cooperative Groups, a nonprofit formed to represent the interests of patients and researchers who conduct clinical trials under the sponsorship of the NCI. He advised the Coalition on its suite of programs and services designed to increase the public’s understanding of cancer clinical trials. He was also an influential advocate at the national level on various policy matters related to cancer research.
“A cancer survivor himself, BobCat spent many hours of his personal time helping family and friends, or ‘friends of friends’ find treatment in their local areas,” said ECOG-ACRIN Executive Director Donna M. Marinucci. “He spent endless hours answering questions of colleagues and staff related to treatment and was a virtuoso of drugs and drug interactions.”
Dr. Catalano was a graduate of the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy & Science, BS Class of 1971 and PharmD, Class of 1972. He served as an officer of his fraternity, Upsilon Sigma Phi, and proudly supported students in later years through efforts with his alumni group. He was known to many as the ‘Father of Oncology Pharmacists’ and was a pioneer for the oncology PharmD program. He served his residency at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania from 1971 – 1973.
To many of his colleagues, BobCat was a bright spot of knowledge and aptitude, with the capacity of warmth, good humor, and true caring for the patients he served. ECOG-ACRIN will sorely miss him, and never forget how much he gave of himself to improve the lives of others.
Memorials in his memory can be made to the American Cancer Society, P.O. Box 22478, Oklahoma City, OK 73123.