Home > Gianni Bonadonna – Biography

Dr. Gianni Bonadonna, born in Milan in 1934, achieved his medical degree at the University of Milan in 1959. During his postdoctoral training, he attended as Research Fellow the Divisions of Clinical Chemotherapy (1961-63) and of Clinical Investigation (1963-64) of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. He then joined the Istituto Nazionale Tumori of Milan where he became Director of the Division of Medical Oncology in 1976. In 1991 he was appointed Head of the Department of Cancer Medicine in the same institution and Associate Professor at the School of Hematology of the University in Milano.


He was member of many scientific societies including ASCO, ESMO and AACR, and of the Editorial Boards of numerous professional journals.

In 1999 he founded the Michelangelo Foundation, a non-profit organization for Cancer Research and Treatment whose main aims are to conduct clinical and translational studies internationally and to improve collaboration in many medical disciplines.


Dr. Bonadonna’s main research activity included the initial studies on the clinical efficacy of Adriamycin (doxorubicin), epirubicin and bleomycin, a number of seminal trials on adjuvant and primary chemotherapy for high-risk breast cancer as well as on combined modality for the treatment of Hodgkin’s disease. He also co-authored numerous researches on the pathways of spread of head and neck, testicular, and rectal cancers and of malignant lymphomas.


He introduced the methodology of controlled clinical trials in medical oncology in Italy and on this topic, the Istituto Tumori of Milan in 1978 was awarded the Bristol-Myers unrestricted grant for cancer institution.


In 1972 he designed a new combination chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s disease known as ABVD (Adriamycin, bleomycin, vinblastine and dacarbazine) that proved to be superior to the classical MOPP chemotherapy and effective in MOPP-resistant patients. ABVD is nowadays (40 years later) still considered the golden standard for conventional chemotherapy in Hodgkin’s disease. In 1974 he designed and conducted the first study on the alternating delivery of MOPP and ABVD, an eight-drug regimen which proved effective in many clinical situations. In recognition of his researches in Hodgkin’s Disease, the Committee of the International Symposium on Hodgkin’s disease in Cologne (Germany) officially instituted the “Gianni Bonadonna Hodgkin’s Disease Award and Lecture”.


In 1973 he designed and conducted the first randomized study to test the activity of the CMF (cyclophosphamide, methotrexate and fluorouracil) combination chemotherapy as an adjuvant treatment in node-positive operable breast cancer. Adjuvant CMF proved to be effective in significantly reducing the risk of disease recurrence and death over a prolonged period of time (30 years). He then designed and conducted a number of seminal trials on both adjuvant and primary chemotherapy for high risk breast cancer. In patients with poor prognosis, the sequential administration of adjuvant Adriamycin followed by CMF proved to be superior to a different sequence of administration of the same drugs and to the classical CMF. The administration of primary chemotherapy achieved prompt tumor shrinkage, enabling surgeons to perform breast conservative procedures in patients that would otherwise have request mutilating mastectomy, and able to induce pathological complete remission in a fraction of patients, favorably influencing their prognosis. As a tribute to his contributions in the field of cancer research, the American Society of Clinical Oncology instituted in 2007 the “Gianni Bonadonna Breast Cancer Award and Lecture” that is presented annually to a researcher of merit in the field of breast cancer.


Visiting Professor in several Universities all over the world, he received numerous prestigious awards among which the “Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Foundation” (1982);
“David Karnofsky Award” (American Society of Clinical Oncology, 1989); “Medal of Honor”(American Cancer Society, 1991); “Steiner Award” (1992), “General Motors Award” (1993) “Ambrogino d’oro – Prize of the Municipality of Milano” (1993); “Clinical Research Award” (Federation of European Cancer Societies, 1995); “Distinguished Service Award for Scientific Achievement” (American Society of Clinical Oncology, 1999); “Saul Rosenberg Award for trials on malignant lymphoma” (2001); “Breast Cancer Award” (European Institute of Oncology, 2003); “1st St. Gallen Golden Cancer Award”(2003); “Premio Internacional de Oncología Duque de Badajoz della Fundacion para la Investigación y Formación en Oncología” (2003).


Dr. Gianni Bonadonna is author or co-authors of more than 550 scientific publications which appeared in the international medical literature, and co-editor of an Italian Textbook on Medical Oncology whose 8th edition appeared in June 2007. He is also author of four books on medicine for lay people and of one book on the Sepoy Revolution in India.


He is also author of some books for lay people and in the one published in 2005 titled “Coraggio ricominciamo (Let’s take heart again)” he narrated his experience in family, social and working life after a severe cerebral hemorrhage and encourage all patients and relatives to never give up. He was chairman of multiple institutional and national committees aimed at improving the patient-doctor relationship.


Dr. Gianni Bonadonna died on September 7, 2015.