Last month the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute family lost one of its most passionate and dedicated scientists. Dr. Merrill Egorin, co-leader of UPCI's Molecular Therapeutics and Drug Discovery Program program, died from complications of multiple myeloma. Merrill had endured five years of therapy, including a stem cell transplant, chemotherapy, targeted agents, surgery and radiation. It is both sad and ironic that he lost his life to cancer, a disease that he had spent a lifetime trying to understand and treat.
Merrill was one of an increasingly rare breed—a classic cancer pharmacologist. A proud graduate of Johns Hopkins and the Osler Medical Service at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, Dr. Egorin trained in medical oncology and pharmacology at the Baltimore Cancer Research Center during the 1970's. He became a staff physician in 1981 at the University of Maryland Hospital where he ultimately rose to the lofty position of professor of medicine, pharmacology and experimental therapeutics and oncology and served as the head of the Division of Developmental Therapeutics of the University of Maryland Cancer Center. In 1998, UPCI was fortunate to lure Merrill away from his native Baltimore and beloved Orioles to lead our clinical and preclinical pharmacology activities. As a researcher he had a laser-like and lifelong focus on the development and application of antineoplastic agents.
In addition to carrying out his own research, Dr. Egorin was passionate about mentoring the next generation of cancer researchers. He believed that one of the most important responsibilities for established researchers is the nurturing and support of junior investigators, and no one was more engaged in this process that Dr. Egorin. Thanks to the time and energy he selflessly dedicated to teaching, many of Dr. Egorin's students are now independent scientists and physicians in their own right. His oft stated goal was to help these young scientists "become rich and famous". In addition to leading by example in the lab, Dr. Egorin founded a weekly writing workshop for students and colleagues to ensure that not only was the data and research perfect for journal and conference submissions, but results were presented in the most precise language possible. Merrill believed communication was key—in presentations, in writing, in research, in life.
Dr.Egorin was highly successful by the traditional benchmarks of an academic career. He contributed scores of articles to medical journals and served as a reviewer or held other editorial positions with many journals. He was a long-time editor of Cancer Chemotherapy and Pharmacology. His research garnered millions of dollars in funding from the National Institutes of Health and pharmaceutical companies. In the last year his proudest accomplishment was becoming the American Society of Clinical Oncology Translational Professor, a recognition from his peers for his scientific and mentoring prowess. During his illness he truly moved seamlessly between his roles as a scientist, clinician, educator, and patient.
Merrill will also be remembered for his quirkiness. Clad routinely in a bow-tie, he was equally at home with his lava lamp, National Bohemian beer, and everything lacrosse. His two tangible gifts to me over the last year were an Osler scarf, a symbol of our shared heritage as house officers on the Osler Medical Service, and a set of slip-on sleeves covered with dragon tattoos to bolster my strength as a new leader. Thus Merrill could both honor the dedication and discipline that is the hallmark of a good doctor and "embrace the funk" (to use his words) to make the challenges of medicine bearable.
Merrill was also the consummate family man. Dr. Egorin is survived by his wife, Karen, his two children, Noah and Melanie, and four grandchildren. He passed away the day after his 41st wedding anniversary with members of his biological and his medical family at his side on the oncology floor of the Shadyside Hospital where he had worked for a dozen years.
Merrill believed, as I do, that great science leads to good medicine. His commitment to cancer patients, his laboratory, his students, the UPCI, and Pittsburgh will be greatly missed. But we are far better for his time with us. He leaves a huge gap but also a tremendous legacy of excellence, dedication, passion, and joy in all that he did.