Dr. Merrill J. Egorin dies at age 62

A founder of the Greenebaum Cancer Center, he helped develop a drug that relieved pain of cancer sufferers

August 13, 2010|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

Dr. Merrill Jon Egorin, an internationally known cancer researcher, a founder of the University of Maryland's Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center, and a co-director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute's Molecular Therapeutics and Drug Discovery Program, died Aug. 7 of multiple myeloma at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Shadyside Hospital.

The former Reisterstown resident was 62.

"He was a brilliant, insightful and funny man who always made me laugh. He was always so excited about science and life," said Dr. Kevin J. Cullen, a longtime friend and colleague who is director of the Greenebaum Cancer Center. "I've rarely met such a talented man who was a delight to be around and who wanted to make cancer patients and their lives better," he said.

In an e-mail to medical colleagues, Dr. Cullen wrote that his old friend was "unique and a national treasure" and that "cancer patients around the world and we, his Maryland colleagues, owe him a great debt of gratitude."

Dr. Egorin had been diagnosed in 2005 with the disease that eventually claimed his life. During the past five years, he had undergone a stem cell transplant and chemotherapy.

"Ironically, he died on the same floor where he had worked for the last 12 years," said his wife of 41 years, the former Karen Kantor, who had been an educator.

Dr. Egorin, the son of a Baltimore businessman and a homemaker, was born in Baltimore and raised in Pikesville.

After graduating from Milford Mill High School in 1965, he earned a bachelor's degree in 1969 from the Johns Hopkins University and his medical degree in 1973 from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

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.

Dr. Egorin became a staff physician in 1981 at the University of Maryland Medical Center and eventually a professor of medicine, pharmacology, experimental therapeutics and oncology.

"His tenure at Maryland was marked by many seminal observations in cancer pharmacology which pushed a burgeoning field forward and has guided us in the care of cancer patients to this day," Dr. Cullen wrote in his e-mail.

Dr. Egorin headed the University of Maryland's division of developmental therapeutics from 1982 until 1998, when he was recruited by the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute as co-leader of the institute's Molecular Therapeutics and Drug Discovery Program and director of its Clinical Pharmacology Analytical Facility.

Dr. Egorin's cancer pharmacology interests centered on antineoplastic agents, which are used during chemotherapy to destroy cancer cells.

"They were used to maximize their effect and minimize the risk for the patient. These are very toxic chemicals," said Dr. Cullen, who continued to collaborate with Dr. Egorin in joint studies of the chemotherapy agent cisplatin.

"His work would forever change the way we looked at this common and important chemotherapy drug," Dr. Cullen said.

Colleagues said that Dr. Egorin used his own battle with cancer and treatment as an educational experience for medical students and researchers, and a few days before his death, participated in a conference call from his hospital room.

Dr. Egorin, who fancied wearing a retro-looking style of tortoiseshell eyeglasses, was also an inveterate bow tie wearer and only wore a regular necktie once a week. "He was made a member of the Osler Society at Hopkins in honor of Sir William Osler, and members of the society all over the world wear the society's tie on Fridays," said Mrs. Egorin.

"He made being a nerd look cool. He wore pocket protectors, he wore bow ties," said his son, Noah Egorin of Arlington, Va., in a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette obituary that was published Monday. "His style was not fashionable, but the way he carried himself, the joy, the way he approached the world, he had kind of a hip thing."

A diehard Colts and Orioles fan, Dr. Egorin embraced the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pirates and Penguins after moving to Shadyside, Pa.

"Although he moved to Pittsburgh some years ago, his heart never really left Baltimore," Dr. Cullen said.

Services were Tuesday.

In addition to his wife and son, Dr. Egorin is survived by a daughter, Melanie Egorin of Frankfurt, Germany; a sister, Sara Egorin-Hooper of Baltimore; and four grandchildren.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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