The International Myeloma Foundation (IMF) presented the 14th annual Robert A. Kyle Lifetime Achievement Award to Dr. S. Vincent Rajkumar during a ceremony in Copenhagen, Denmark on Wednesday evening, June 8, 2016. The award was given during the IMF’s annual International Myeloma Working Group (IMWG) Summit, and the event was held at the beautiful and historic Borsen Old Stock Exchange, which dates back to 1625.
The highlight of the evening occurred when Dr. Rajkumar surprised the audience with a guitar and vocal performance of the Bob Dylan classic, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” accompanied by Dr. Philippe Moreau, also on guitar and vocals, and the IMF’s Pierre Sayad on keyboards. The song’s original lyrics were “doctored” to fit the occasion and poked good-natured fun of some of the well-known audience members.
Dr. Jesus San Miguel kicked off the program by praising Dr. Rajkumar, then he cited his friend and colleague’s one flaw—“Dr. Rajkumar is a fan of Barcelona football!” Dr. Antonio Palumbo then presented a slide show of Rajkumar family photos, including one of Dr. Rajkumar, age 5, already wearing a button-down shirt and tie. This was a sign that Dr. Rajkumar was destined to be “a Mayo man,” Dr. Palumbo teased.
High spirits were accompanied by emotional tributes to Dr. Rajkumar by his closest colleagues, including a moving video from Dr. Robert Kyle, the award’s namesake and a man who has served as a mentor to Dr. Rajkumar. Knee surgery prevented Dr. Kyle from making the journey from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, to Copenhagen for the event. So instead, Dr. Kyle recorded a video in which he praised Dr. Rajkumar for helping to foster the education and growth of young medical fellows, and for authoring hundreds of important myeloma research articles.
Dr. Rajkumar, who is the Edward W. and Betty Knight Scripps Professor of Medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, has worked closely with Dr. Kyle for 20 years. “Bob Kyle is an inspiration,” said Dr. Rajkumar. “He is the person I want to be like, but simply cannot. This award is a reflection of Dr. Kyle’s leadership, vision, and guidance, more than anything I have done. The people who have won this award in the past are giants in the field, and I am very humbled.”
Dr. Rajkumar credited his parents’ sacrifices as he described early frustrations pursuing a medical education in India. “I tried in 1982 to get into medical school and didn’t get in. I tried again in 1984. I know how much my parents tried to help, and my family would have loved to be here.”
He also thanked his Mayo Clinic colleagues, Dr. Angela Dispenzieri and Dr. Morie Gertz. “I would have been in a boat back to India if it wasn’t for Morie Gertz. He told me he would move heaven and earth to get the best people no matter where they’re from.” And he paid homage to the IMF. “IMF President Susie Novis Durie and Co-Chairman Dr. Brian Durie adopted me,” said Dr. Rajkumar. “The IMF totally embraced me!”
In 1995, Dr. Rajkumar joined Mayo Clinic to train in hematology and medical oncology. He joined the staff in 1999, rising to professor in 2006. His research focuses on clinical, epidemiological, and laboratory research for myeloma and related disorders.
Dr. Rajkumar has led numerous phase I, II, and III clinical trials investigating the role of new agents in myeloma, including the pivotal trials that led to the approval of thalidomide in myeloma in the US, and has published more than 300 peer-reviewed papers primarily in the field of myeloma and related plasma cell disorders. Dr. Rajkumar was lead author on the 2014 IMWG Updated Criteria for the Diagnosis of Multiple Myeloma, considered to be a paradigm shift in the approach to multiple myeloma.
In addition to his stellar research credentials, Dr. Rajkumar excels at science communications, serving as Associate Editor for the Mayo Clinic Proceedings; Section Editor for the journal Leukemia; Associate Editor for the European Journal of Haematology; and Editor-in-Chief of Blood Cancer Journal. He is equally adept at sharing medical information through social media, as his thousands of Twitter followers can attest.
At the end of his remarks, Dr. Rajkumar brought the topic around to the central theme of his work. “We do this for the patients. We want to cure myeloma. Yelak Biru, who is a patient, said to me ‘Now that you’ve won a lifetime achievement award, you cannot retire—you have to help us!’ Believe me, I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to be like Bob Kyle.”