Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the Fall/Winter 2018 issue of Forward magazine, which is published twice a year by Fox Chase Cancer Center.
Creating the Modern Cancer Center
By Kaitlyn Oberg
Fox Chase Cancer Center’s Talbot Research Library is named in memory of Timothy R. Talbot, Jr. but his true legacy is the entire cancer center. In fact, the notion of a comprehensive cancer center was Talbot’s innovation.
In 1957 Talbot succeeded Stanley P. Reimann as director of the Institute for Cancer Research. He guided the Institute for the next 20 years, culminating in the merger with the American Oncologic Hospital that created Fox Chase Cancer Center. He then became the new cancer center’s first leader.
Talbot was a visionary whose mark on the world of cancer continues to grow even more than 30 years after his death, and it almost didn’t happen. He initially enrolled in college with plans for a career in engineering. As an undergraduate, he discovered his passion for biology and decided to become a physician. In 1941 the newly minted doctor entered the U.S. Naval Reserve, where he conducted medical research.
Following his service, Talbot embarked on a cancer research career that led him to stints at Memorial Sloan-Kettering and a predecessor of Boston University Medical Center. In 1951, he returned to Philadelphia to join the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and settle down in the suburbs with his wife, Mary.
In 1956, Talbot received a National Cancer Institute fellowship to study chemotherapy in London. During his fellowship, Anthony H. Whitaker, president of the board of the Institute for Cancer Research, recruited him to replace Reimann, who was retiring.
As director, Talbot planned for a future which largely remains in place today. Years into his tenure he said, “I don’t think I would have come to this campus if I didn’t have this rather fuzzy but persistent dream of basic biomedical researchers and clinicians working together in an interdisciplinary community to study the problems of cancer.”
In addition to building a community that encouraged interdisciplinary collaboration, he emphasized the importance of institutional character. He endeavored to create an environment that nurtured creative science and the innovative spirit of individual researchers. Beatrice Mintz, the Jack Schultz Chair in Basic Science, said that Talbot’s, “quiet encouragement set the tone of the institution and fostered an appreciation of originality and quality over mere productivity.”
While building his ideal cancer center, Talbot was also spearheading the development of national cancer research and prevention efforts. In 1958, he helped found the Association of American Cancer Institutes, a group of cancer research centers dedicated to reducing the burden of cancer. He served two terms as the association’s president.
He also collaborated with other top scientists and Congress to enact the National Cancer Act of 1971. The law allowed for expanded authority and funding for the National Cancer Institute, a National Cancer Program, and National Cancer Advisory Board. He served on the National Committee of the International Union Against Cancer and also played a major role in the Pennsylvania Cancer Plan.
Talbot served as president of Fox Chase from its founding in 1974 until 1980. He remained an active leader of the Fox Chase board of directors until 1983. When he retired, Fox Chase named him president emeritus. He retained an office at the Center and was active in its continued growth and development until he died of cancer in 1988 at age 72.
Friends and colleagues honored Talbot’s legacy by establishing the Timothy R. Talbot Jr. Chair in Cancer Research, an endowed chair that supports an outstanding leader in cancer research who represents the highest standards of excellence. It is currently held by Mary Daly, the founding director of the Risk Assessment Program.