Lives of the fellows

Edward Stewart Newlands

b.10 June 1942 d.13 October 2006
BA BM BCh Oxon(1966) MRCP(1970) PhD Lond(1976) FRCP(1984)

Edward Stewart Newlands was one of the few doctors of his generation who will be recognised internationally long after his premature death for important advances he made in his field of medicine. He was a medical oncologist who improved the understanding and treatment of gestational trophoblastic disease and testicular cancers, and developed temozolomide treatment for brain tumours. The third of four children, he was born into an Edinburgh medical family, with both parents doctors. His parents moved to England after the Second World War and Edward attended the King's School, Bruton, in Somerset before gaining an open scholarship to Exeter College, Oxford. He was considered among the brightest of his year. He met his future wife Liz, an undergraduate at St Anne’s College, in Delphi during the long vacation and they celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary in 2005.

After graduating from Oxford, he trained at the Middlesex Hospital Medical School, where he also earned a PhD in immunology, leading to his interest in oncology. After posts at other major teaching hospitals in London, he went to the Charing Cross Hospital in 1974 to join Ken Bagshawe’s department as lecturer in medical oncology. In 1983 he was elected a Fellow of the College. He developed a major interest in gestational trophoblastic disease and became director of the trophoblast unit after Ken Bagshawe's retirement. He made a number of important innovations to improve understanding and treatment of this disease. The most notable of these contributions may have been the design and use of the EMA/CO regimen. This multi-drug chemotherapy regimen has proved the most effective treatment for patients with advanced disease and is now widely used internationally, resulting in the saving of many women's lives. In the clinic, his compassion and sensitivity were particularly valuable in treating this condition, where the anxiety of a potentially life-threatening cancer is compounded by the grieving that comes with the loss of a pregnancy.

Another major interest was the treatment of testicular and ovarian germ cell tumours. He was the first to demonstrate the value of etoposide for treating testicular and ovarian germ cell cancers. This, in combination with cisplatin, has helped improve the cure rate for metastatic disease from less than 30 per cent to over 90 per cent, and is used throughout the world as part of the BEP regimen. He had a healthy regard for the late toxicity of chemotherapeutic drugs and was always concerned to try to avoid treatments where possible. He was one of the pioneers of surveillance for stage one testicular and ovarian germ cell tumours. This approach is now widely used. Newlands also played a key role in the development of anti-emetics to facilitate the administration of chemotherapy. His work combining ondansetron with dexamethasone in patients receiving cisplatin-based treatments revolutionised the acceptability of this highly emetic drug.

In 1991 he was appointed professor of cancer medicine at the Charing Cross and Westminster Medical School, subsequently the Imperial College School of Medicine. Although Ed, as he was known to his friends, was primarily a clinician, he had a deep-rooted interest in the science of new drugs. Increasingly through his involvement with the Cancer Research Campaign (now Cancer Research UK) phase one and two committee he took part in many early stage clinical trials. He had an outstanding intellect that enabled him to understand scientific concepts beyond the grasp of many clinicians and helped him to collaborate well with the scientists involved in new drug discovery. In his quiet but determined way, he pioneered the development and use of temozolomide. Having led the phase one trials he appreciated its potential for the management of gliomas, the most common type of brain cancer. This drug, when combined with radiotherapy, has significantly improved survival and quality of life for patients with gliomas, the first major advance in this disease for some 20 years.

Ed Newlands was a very loyal friend to those he respected and was always prepared to speak his mind about issues he considered important such as patients’ access to the most appropriate care. He made up his mind carefully and logically and his stubborn streak made it difficult to persuade him to change his views. However he was always open to friendly, frank discussion and is greatly missed by his many colleagues who relied upon him for sound advice. He had a full life outside medicine that included interests in theatre, literature, old English glass, furniture, paintings, travel, but most of all music. He particularly enjoyed early music, and apart from Beethoven quartets and Schubert songs, considered little quality music was produced after the death of Mozart. As with everything he did Ed had a deep understanding about music and, although he could be a harsh critic, was an eloquent fund of information. Food and drink, especially wine, often accompanied with a short lecture on its origins and quality, was another enjoyment. He travelled widely as he was much in demand as a speaker at international meetings. He took early retirement in 2004 partly to further his desire to travel without professional commitments. He died after a short illness at home in London, and is survived by his wife Elizabeth.

Gordon J S Rustin

[The Times 16 November 2006]

(Volume XII, page web)

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