William E. Evans was born in Clarksville, Tennessee, and received his BSc and Pharm.D. degrees from the University of Tennessee (1973, 1974). Dr. Evans joined St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital as a student in 1972 and dedicated his career to serving that community, culminating in his role as CEO from 2004 to 2014. During his decade as CEO, St. Jude was ranked the number one Children’s Cancer Hospital by US News and World Report and by Parents Magazine. It received an “Exceptional” ranking as an NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center and became the only NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center devoted solely to children. It also had a consistent presence on the Fortune Magazine list of the annual “100 Best Companies to Work For.”
There have been many notable accomplishments during Dr. Evans’ tenure as St. Jude’s CEO. The Hospital expanded annual fundraising to over $1 billion and established the only Proton Beam radiation therapy center devoted solely to children. The Pediatric Cancer Genome Project, the largest-ever investment in whole-genome sequencing of childhood cancers, was launched under Evans’ leadership. The resulting genome sequence data was made available for free access by the global scientiﬁc community.
For the past 40+ years Williams’ research has focused on the pharmacodynamics and pharmacogenomics of anticancer agents in children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, for which he has received three consecutive NIH MERIT Awards from the National Cancer Institute. He discovered the genetic basis for inheritance of thiopurine methyltransferase (TPMT) deficiency, now used globally for precision medicine of mercaptopurine and azathioprine. Additionally, he helped discover a genomic basis of resistance to glucocorticoids in treating leukemia and other diseases. Evans has authored over 450 scientiﬁc publications, including papers in New England Journal of Medicine, Lancet, Science, Nature, Nature Genetics, Cancer Cell and Nature Medicine. He led the Hematological Malignancies program at St. Jude and was a member of the team that pushed cure rates for childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia from 50% in the 1970s to over 90% today.
He has received numerous awards, including the 2009 Pediatric Oncology Award from the American Society of Clinical Oncology (with his wife Mary V. Relling) and a 2012 Remington Medal from American Pharmaceutical Association. Evans has been elected to the Institute of Medicine of the US National Academy of Sciences (2002) and the US National Academy of Medicine (2015). He is also the only Tennessean to be elected to the German National Academy of Sciences, whose membership includes Darwin, Einstein and over 30 Nobel Laureates.