The Conception of OncoLink – A Perspective


By Joel Goldwein, MD
Founding Editor of OncoLink

I just finished Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson, and while there is no comparison between the conception of OncoLink and the Apple story, there are remarkable similarities. Both, from a conceptual standpoint, were innovations that were arguably ahead of their times. Both were products of “environments of incubation” – unlikely combinations of people, ideas, technology and opportunity that led to very important developments with global ramifications.  Both were authentic, unique and perhaps even iconic, and both were quickly followed by facsimiles and derivative works representing the sincerest form of flattery.  Both were based on foundations of technology and discovery that preceded them, and both continue to be eminent, now standing on their own as foundations for others.  Perhaps most importantly, both continue to touch the lives of hundreds of millions of people world-wide.

I am constantly amazed at what was and what wasn’t in March, 1994 when OncoLink was founded.  There was no Google, Facebook, iPhone, iPod… There was no medical web site let alone a cancer web site, no amazon.com to purchase books, and no YouTube or Pandora to watch videos or listen to music.  We did not have broadband in our houses (I think I used Compuserve BBS via a 56kbps modem over a noisy copper phone line).  Very few of my colleagues had email addresses, and ever fewer used them.  With the exception of PDQ (Physician Data Query – the NCI’s comprehensive online database) and MedLine/PubMed, I do not recall a single medical journal or medical publisher with a significant online presence. I was still frequenting the Penn medical library to perform most of my research.

From a personal standpoint, OncoLink stands out as one of my proudest professional accomplishments.   Selfishly, I’ve shook hands, rub shoulders and had heart to heart chats with the likes of Jerry Yang (Yahoo!), C. Everett Koop (former US Surgeon General), Vinton Cerf (invented the foundation of the Internet – TCP/IP) and even Michael Milken (business magnate and philanthropist). I was given the opportunity to put the Penn Medical School Curriculum on line, and “Virtual Curriculum 2000″ stood out as another first of its kind.  I grabbed the attention of three Silicon Valley entrepreneurs – Joe Jachinowski, Jay Hoey and David Auerbach – who founded IMPAC (Oncology Electronic Medical Record and Administration System) and themselves changed the face of Radiation Oncology in a more profound way than most recognize.   On a more charitable note, OncoLink has served as the vehicle to provide an unprecedented number of people with high quality cancer information, dwarfing any amount of personal benefit I might enjoy.

Now, 18 years later, OncoLink continues to stand out.  It is iconic of what medical information web sites should be, and represents the best of what and how an outstanding university can present its caring face to the world.  But, it is also a sustaining legacy and accomplishment grounded on a great team of collaborators, all of whom have contributed to its success.  Foremost, credit goes to the millions upon millions of users who’ve contributed, directly and indirectly to the resource.   It is to these people, who are the inspirations to the site, that we should continue to dedicate our efforts and continue to evolve the site to remain the outstanding resource it has always been.

Dr. Goldwein, OncoLink Founding Editor, is an Adjunct Professor of Radiation Oncology at the University of Pennsylvania and is Senior Vice President of Medical Affairs, Elekta.