At a ceremony June 9th in Vienna, Austria, the International Myeloma Foundation (IMF) honored Pieter Sonneveld, MD, with the 13th Annual Robert A. Kyle Lifetime Achievement Award. Vienna’s 19th-century Kunsthistorisches Museum—with its soaring walls covered with paintings by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Brueghel, and Klimt—was a dramatic backdrop for the ceremony, which is a highlight of the annual meeting of the International Myeloma Working Group (IMWG), the research arm of the IMF.
During a cocktail reception, IMF President Susie Novis welcomed guests and invited them to climb the massive marble staircase leading to the museum’s galleries for private docent-led tours.
A vast space on the gallery floor of the museum was a superb setting for an operatic interlude performed by mezzo soprano Stella Grigorian. Accompanied by pianist Martin Schuppich, Ms. Grigorian sang selections from George Bizet’s “Carmen,” Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide,” and Camille Saint-Saëns’ “Samson and Delilah,” to the delight of all.
IMF Chairman Dr. Brian Durie, the evening’s emcee, then introduced a new IMF short film about the Robert A. Kyle award that featured interviews with previous Kyle Award honorees. Each spoke of his immense admiration for Dr. Robert Kyle, the Mayo Clinic myeloma research and treatment pioneer for whom the award is named.
The Kyle award is given to individuals “whose work in the field of myeloma has resulted in significant advances in research, treatment, and care of myeloma patients” and judging by a charming slide presentation that traced his life and career, Dr. Sonneveld meets and exceeds that criterion. Starting off with a charming photo of him as a young sailor with his family, he went on to medical school, earned a Ph.D. with a thesis on the pharmacology of Adriamycin® in acute leukemia, performed his first transplant, and eventually attained leadership in numerous professional organizations.
Humor crept in at every turn during the evening to keep any stuffiness at bay. For example, a slide in Dr. Sonneveld’s presentation credited Dr. Jean Luc Harousseau with showing him how to do myeloma clinical research drew chuckles from the audience by also noting, “although French, Dr. Harousseau is warm and open to Europeans.”
Two of the honoree’s close friends, Prof. Bob Lowenberg, the editor of BLOOD, and Prof. Bob Mulder of the Technical University of Delft—or, as IMF Chairman Brian Durie, MD referred to them, “the two Bobs” – spoke next. Professors Lowenberg and Mulder delivered moving and at times humorous tributes to Dr. Sonneveld, who serves as the Head of the Department of Hematology and Professor of Hematology at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam, The Netherlands.
Prof. Mulder, an aerospace engineer, explained to the largely physician-filled crowd the parallels between cancer research and aeronautical engineering, an idea he supported with detailed slides that appeared to be very similar to those the audience had viewed earlier in the day at the IMWG sessions.
When Dr. Kyle took the stage to present Dr. Sonneveld with his award, he noted that receiving a lifetime achievement award doesn’t mark the end of one’s achievements. “Pieter,” said Dr. Kyle, “we know you’re not finished yet… and we expect many, many, more great things from you.” Handing the large crystal obelisk to the 13th Kyle Lifetime Achievement Award honoree, Dr. Kyle said he had one piece of advice for its recipient: “Don’t drop it on your foot!”
Dr. Sonneveld accepted the honor with characteristic modesty. “I feel honored to receive the 2015 Robert A. Kyle Lifetime Achievement Award and I share it with the people who participated in our trials and research during many years,” he told the audience of nearly 200 people.
“I am,” he added, “very privileged to work with many gifted and dedicated people from all over the world to find a cure for multiple myeloma and to improve the lives of our patients.”
Dr. Pieter Sonneveld is Chairman of the Dutch HOVON Myeloma Cooperative Group and he coordinates clinical trials in lymphoma, leukemia and multiple myeloma in The Netherlands. He is on the executive board of the European Hematology Association (EHA). He serves on the Scientific Advisory Boards of the IMF, the Myeloma UK Foundation, is a member of the Editorial Boards of more than eight major hematology publications, and is Associate Editor of Haematologica. He is Chairman of the European Myeloma Network.