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September 2, 2010

Obituary: Merrill J. Egorin

merrill_egorinInternationally known cancer researcher Merrill J. Egorin, professor of medicine and pharmacology at the School of Medicine and co-leader of the molecular therapeutics/drug discovery program at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI), died Aug. 7, 2010, of multiple myeloma. He was 62.

A native of Baltimore, Egorin received his medical degree and training in internal medicine from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Hospital.

In the 1970s, he completed an internship and residency at Hopkins and a clinical fellowship in oncology and pharmacology at the Baltimore Cancer Research Center, then part of the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

In 1981, he became a staff physician at the University of Maryland Medical Center, where he rose to the position of professor of medicine, pharmacology and experimental therapeutics and oncology. Egorin was a founder of the University of Maryland’s Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center and headed that university’s Division of Developmental Therapeutics from 1982 until 1998.

He was recruited to UPCI in 1998 to lead its clinical and preclinical pharmacology activities while serving as the director of UPCI’s Pharmacology Analytical Facility.

Egorin’s research focused on the pharmacology of cancer drugs, particularly on the rational development and application of antineoplastic agents, which are used in chemotherapy to kill cancer cells.

He served as principal investigator on a NCI-funded contract evaluating the pharmacokinetics, metabolism and pharmacodynamics of antitumor agents being considered for clinical trials and was the co-principal investigator of an NCI-funded cooperative agreement for conducting studies at UPCI.

Egorin was well-recognized for his work. In 2003, he received the Elliott Osserman Award for Distinguished Service in Support of Cancer Research from the Israel Cancer Research Fund for his years of service on the organization’s scientific review panel.

In 2006, Egorin received the Joseph H. Burchenal Clinical Research Award from the American Association for Cancer Research for his work in developing and refining the clinical use of a broad spectrum of cancer chemotherapy agents.

In 2009, he received the American Society of Clinical Oncology  Translational Research Professorship for his work in improving cancer treatments and supporting the next generation of researchers.

Egorin was diagnosed in 2005 with multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer that occurs in bone marrow. He underwent a stem cell transplant as well as chemotherapy.

UPCI director Nancy E. Davidson said Egorin made himself a case study for his students and colleagues, teaching them about the effects of cancer from the patient’s point of view.

“Merrill was a really special person who had a passion and enthusiasm for everything he did,” said Davidson, who knew Egorin for more than 20 years, going back to their days together in Baltimore. “He was first of all a wonderful doctor. He also was a rigorous and meticulous researcher and a very gifted mentor who gave freely of his time to provide the best training. He did all that long before he unfortunately became a cancer patient himself.

“It’s a very difficult position to be a doctor, a researcher, a mentor and a patient all at once, but Merrill handled it all extremely well. He not only talked the talk but he walked the walk,” Davidson said.

She added that Egorin was among the world’s best known cancer researchers. “He really was an incredible resource for cancer drugs, cancer treatment and the pharmacology of drugs. You won’t see an expert like him anytime soon.”

Egorin’s professional affiliations included a fellowship in the American College of Physicians and membership in the American Association for Cancer Research, the American Society for Clinical Oncology, the American Society for Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics and the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics.

He served on the editorial boards of several medical journals and was editor-in-chief of Cancer Chemotherapy and Pharmacology. He authored or co-authored numerous book chapters and more than 175 journal articles.

Egorin is survived by his wife, Karen Kantor Egorin; his children, Melanie Anne Egorin and Noah Egorin; his sister, Sara Egorin-Hooper, and four grandchildren.

Contributions in his memory may be sent to the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute Fund for Support of Summer Student Research, 5150 Centre Ave., Suite 500, Pittsburgh 15232.

—Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 43 Issue 1

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