Cherry Hill native changing the world of medicine, cancer treatment

Dr. David Agus is one of the nation’s leading oncologist and a New York Times best-selling author. He will speak at the Katz JCC Arts, Books and Culture Festival in Cherry Hill on Nov. 20.

PHOTO CREDIT: Phil Channing

Cherry Hill native Dr. David Agus didn’t want to be any ordinary doctor.

He wanted to come up with new and innovative ways for his patients to live longer, healthier and happier lives.

Today, Agus is one of the best in the field of oncology when it comes to finding innovative ways to fight cancer. Agus is a professor of medicine and engineering at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California and the USC Viterbi School of Engineering and the head of USC’s Norris Westside Cancer Center and the Center for Applied Molecular Medicine. He is also a New York Times bestselling author, with his latest book, “The Lucky Years: How to Thrive in the Brave New World of Health,” having been released in January.

In November, Agus will return to his former hometown of Cherry Hill, as he will speak at the Katz JCC Arts, Books and Culture Festival on Sunday, Nov. 20 at 10 a.m.

What separates Agus from other oncologists and medical professionals is his approach to the human body. He views the body as one complex system where treatment to one part of the body has an effect on the other systems.

Agus lived in Cherry Hill from first to 12th grade. His father, a doctor, was his inspiration to pursue a career in medicine.

“While most high school kids during the summer would go to camp, I would go to the labs,” Agus recalled.

“I get excited by translational science,” Agus continued. “It was the notion that something could help somebody.”

Agus earned a bachelor’s degree from Princeton University and a medical degree at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. While completing his medical residency training at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Agus decided he wanted to specialize in oncology, even though he was being encouraged to move into another field, such as cardiology.

“I wanted to go into the field where people weren’t,” Agus said.

“My grandmother suffered from cancer,” he continued. “I saw especially at the end that people were very conventional in how they treated it.”

For more than 20 years, Agus has not just treated cancer patients, but he has put a focus on finding new and innovative ways to fight the disease.

A little more than five years ago, Agus decided he wanted to find a way to help people outside of the patients he treated.

“I couldn’t see more patients,” Agus said. “There was way more demand than I could fill.”

Agus decided to write the book, “The End of Illness,” in which he talked about his idea of viewing the human body as a complex system and how his way of thinking could positively impact an individual’s health. The book was released in January 2012.

“Nobody expected it to be particularly successful,” Agus said. “The publisher printed 5,000 copies.”

The book was a hit, not only becoming a best-selling book in the United States, but in nearly 40 other countries. The book’s success and Agus’ notoriety helped land him a segment on the television show “CBS This Morning.” Agus appears on the show once or twice a week.

Agus views his TV appearances and other speaking engagements he does as a way to help a larger audience.

“I view it as a privilege and obligation,” Agus said.

In 2014, Agus released his second book, called “A Short Guide to a Long Life.” The book takes the principles Agus speaks about in “The End of Illness” and presents a guide offering 65 rules for people to follow for living a vibrant, productive life.

In January, Agus’ third book, “The Lucky Years: How to Thrive in the Brave New World of Health,” was released. In this title, Agus offers the reader a practical and actionable guide to take advantage of the newest advances in medicine.

Soon, Agus will be taking on another role at USC, as he will be leading the new Lawrence J. Ellison Institute for Transformative Medicine of USC. In May, Ellison, a technology entrepreneur, donated $200 million for construction of the institute. The new facility will allow physicists, mathematicians and other scientists to collaborate with traditional cancer researchers to find new and innovative ways to treat the disease.

“The greatest thinkers in the world can live there and study disease alongside cancer docs and biologists,” Agus said. “We’re going to learn from other scientists other ways of thinking.”

Agus’ presentation at the Katz JCC ABC Festival is free to attend. Those interested in attending can reserve a seat by visiting www.katzjcc.org/abc-festival-tickets.