publication date: Sep. 23, 2016


Sargent, Mayo Biostatistician and Clinical Trialist, Dies Unexpectedly at 46

By Paul Goldberg

Dan Sargent, one of the world’s foremost experts in oncology clinical trials, died unexpectedly on Sept. 22. Sargent died from an acute illness, Mayo officials said. He was 46.

“This is a tremendous loss to Mayo Clinic as well as the national and international cancer research community. Dan has given so much to so many,” said Robert Diasio, director of the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center. “We are deeply saddened by his passing. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife and family.”

Sargent joined Mayo Clinic Rochester after earning his PhD in biostatistics from the University of Minnesota in 1996. At the time of his death, he was the Ralph S. and Beverley E. Caulkins Professor of Cancer Research, and the Chair of the Division of Biomedical Statistics and Informatics in the Department of Health Sciences Research at the Mayo Clinic.

He was also the principal investigator for the statistics and data management program at the Alliance for Clinical Trials in Oncology.

Monica Bertagnolli, chair of Alliance, said that research group “would not have been created if it were not for Dan’s efforts and particular talents.”

In 2010, Sargent was elected to serve as Group Statistician for Cancer and Leukemia Group B, linking CALGB to the North Central Cancer Treatment Group (The Cancer Letter, Aug. 3, 2010). At the time of this election, NCCTG and ACOSOG had been operating together since 2006, and had partially harmonized their data collection. Sargent said the groups used “two-and-a-half data systems.”

“We have half-way integrated ACSOG and NCCTG,” Sargent said. “We have to finish that and integrate the CALGB system into those that we have here at Mayo.”

“Dan’s election to become CALGB Group Statistician was the catalyst that led to the 2011 merger of CALGB, NCCTG, and the ACOSOG to create the Alliance,” Bertagnolli said to The Cancer Letter. “The cancer cooperative groups are characterized by the tremendous loyalty of their members, and by the great passion that they bring to clinical trials research.

“As a result, it would have been impossible to merge three exceptional groups to create a new identity without the understanding that the whole would be greater than the sum of the parts.  Dan’s wonderful collaborative personality and the uncompromising quality of his team gave everyone the confidence to proceed.”

Sargent’s numerous publications—there are 189 on MedLine—focus on the treatment of colorectal cancer, predictive biomarkers, and optimal clinical trial design and endpoints.

He led many international data pooling and analysis consortia, including ACCENT in adjuvant colon cancer, the prospective IDEA international pooled analysis testing the duration of therapy in stage III colon cancer, and the FLASH international consortia in Follicular Lymphoma.

Sargent co-chaired a joint NCI-EORTC committee on methodology for tumor marker studies, was a member of the FDA panel on endpoints for colon cancer clinical trials, and currently sat on the NCI Clinical Trials Advisory Committee, which oversees all cancer clinical trials in the U.S. He was a member of the U.S. Gastrointestinal Cancer Steering Committee, and has co-chaired the Gastrointestinal committee for the NCI Common Data Elements Project.

“The world has lost one of its stars,” Axel Grothey, a colorectal cancer expert at Mayo, wrote to a group of colleagues. “We always say that everyone is replaceable, Dan is an example that this statement is not true.”

Ellen Sigal, chair and founder of Friends of Cancer Research, said she worked closely with Sargent on many initiatives. “He was a superb scientist and human being who dedicated his life to science and making the world better for patients,” Sigal said. “He was creative and he lived his life according to his principles.”

Alliance’s Bertagnolli describes Sargent as a “rare mentor and friend to so many.”

“His faculty members benefited by his approach of leading by guidance rather than by direction,” she said. “He widely shared his love of research, his dedication to family, and his pleasure in getting good friends together for a meal. The quality of every facet of a full life was just better when Dan was around.  He leaves behind many who will try very hard to follow his example.”

He is survived by wife Becky, and his children, Alec and Paige.

There will be a memorial service for Sargent on Nov. 4, during the Alliance Group meeting in Chicago.

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