Merrill Egorin, world-renowned researcher, led the fight in finding drugs for battling cancer
Helen Spiker still remembers the days when Dr. Merrill Jon Egorin would bring in local students, ranging from kindergarten through high school, to the laboratory at the University of Maryland Cancer Center. He wanted the youngsters to see firsthand the world of research and the endless opportunities it presented to humanity’s future.
“He was wonderful with them. To bring it to their level was simply pure genius,” said Ms. Spiker, who worked with Dr. Egorin for 25 years at the center. “He was really quite a person, the biggest mentsch you’d ever want to meet. He contributed so much to the community.”
A Baltimore native, Beth Am congregant and former Reisterstown resident, Dr. Egorin died in Pittsburgh Aug. 7 from multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer that occurs in bone marrow. He was 62.
As co-leader of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute’s Molecular Therapeutics and Drug Discovery Program, he was involved in developing medicines to ease the suffering of cancer patients. He was also a beloved teacher and mentor to countless medical students and associates, according to Ms. Spiker and others.
“Dr. Egorin was widely recognized as a passionate and dedicated mentor,” said Dr. Nancy E. Davidson, director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute. “His commitment to cancer patients, his laboratory, his students and the cancer institute will be greatly missed.”
A Johns Hopkins intern and resident from 1973 to 1975, Dr. Egorin received his undergraduate and medical degrees from Hopkins and worked under Dr. Victor A. McKusick, the late professor of medical genetics and medicine at Hopkins who is widely considered the father of clinical medical genetics.
“[Dr. Egorin] was a very special guy,” said Dr. Nicholas R. Bachur Sr., who served as a mentor to Dr. Egorin. “He came to me in ’66 or ’67 when he was a student at Hopkins. We had just opened the Baltimore Cancer Research [Center], and Merrill came in and wanted to do some research work. He was a nice little kid, so we brought him on. His attitude and spirit were very unusual. He had a very gentle smile and ways of making certain things humorous.”
During the 1970s, Dr. Egorin was trained in medical oncology and pharmacology at the Baltimore Cancer Research Center, which today is the University of Maryland Greenebaum Cancer Center.
He became a staff physician at the University of Maryland Hospital in 1981 and eventually a professor of medicine, pharmacology and experimental therapeutics and oncology. He served as head of the Division of Developmental Therapeutics of the University of Maryland Cancer Center from 1982 to 1998.
Twelve years ago, Dr. Egorin moved on to the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute to lead its clinical and preclinical pharmacology programs. His research centered on the development and application of antineoplastic agents used in chemo- therapy to destroy cancerous cells.
In addition, Dr. Egorin held several editorial positions, including with the Journal of the American Medical Association and the New England Journal of Medicine.
In his spare time, Dr. Egorin enjoyed locally-brewed beers, the Grateful Dead, wearing bowties and the performing arts.
Over the past five-and-a-half years, since being diagnosed with multiple myeloma, Dr. Egorin used his own disease and treatment as teaching tools at the University of Pittsburgh. He even participated in a conference call from his hospital bed last week.
“He loved science and research,” said Ms. Spiker. “He was very passionate about it, and about teaching and getting people into research. He really felt the answer was there.”
Dr. Bachur described Dr. Egorin as “a real giver — a very generous person. He made a lot of important discoveries in his lifetime and revolutionized the use of certain anti-cancer drugs. His findings really paved the way.”
On a personal level, Dr. Bachur said Dr. Egorin was like “a son” to him. “He was just a very fine person with an extraordinary heart,” Dr. Bachur said. “We all received the goodness of his giving.”
Dr. Egorin, who was buried at the Arlington Cemetery-Chizuk Amuno Congregation in Baltimore, is survived by his wife of 41 years, Karen Kantor Egorin; his daughter, Melanie Anne Egorin of Frankfurt, Germany; his son, Noah Egorin of Arlington, Va.; a sister, Sara Egorin Hooper of Baltimore; and four grandchildren.
Contributions in his memory may be sent to University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, Fund for Support of Summer Student Research, 5150 Centre Ave., Suite 500, Pittsburgh, Pa.,15232.
(This story was reprinted with permission of the Times.)