Drawn by her extensive knowledge and lively teaching style, a standing-room-only audience of nearly 300 Jeffersonians overflowed Connelly Conference Hall to hear Nobel Laureate Gertrude B. Elion, DSc, deliver the 34th Annual Martin E. Rehfuss Lecture, "Challenges and Rewards of Pharmaceutical Research."
Don Walker Photography - Before delivering the 34th Annual Martin E. Rehfuss Lecture to an overflow gathering of Jeffersonians, Nobel Laureate Gertrude B. Elion, DSc, at right, held an informal question-and-answer dialogue with residents, graduate students and post-doctoral fellows. Robert L. Capizzi, MD, Magee Professor of Medicine and Chairman of the Department, Jefferson Medical College, at left, hosted the session, saying later that "Dr. Elion enthralled her audience with her candor, especially regarding her career in the synthesis of drugs that might inhibit nucleic acids, realizing that, at the time, the structure of DNA had not as yet been defined."
Every year since 1964 the Percival E. and Ethel Brown Foerderer Fund has sponsored the Rehfuss Lecture. Mr. Foerderer was a Jefferson trustee from 1928 until his death in 1968, and served as Board Chairman from 1950 to 1962. Mrs. Foerderer was President of the Women's Board from 1947 to 1952. Their granddaughters, Mrs. Shelley Ames Hartz and Mrs. Ethel F. Davis, attended this year's lecture, with Mrs. Davis presenting the Rehfuss Medal to Dr. Elion.
Dr. Elion received the 1988 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for her work in developing two of the first successful drugs for the treatment of leukemia.
She holds honorary degrees from 25 universities and is a member of numerous prestigious American and international scientific organizations. She has been a Presidential appointee to the National Cancer Advisory Board which oversees the National Cancer Institute.
Dr. Elion is now Scientist Emeritus with Glaxo Wellcome Inc., Research Triangle Park, N.C. Her long career in academic medicine is marked by close research collaborations with private industry, a direction toward which Jefferson has made great strides.
In introducing the program, Jussi J. Saukkonen, MD, Dean, College of Graduate Studies, said it was "particularly fortunate and timely for Jefferson to have a research scientist with Dr. Elion's background and accomplishments as this year's Rehfuss Lecturer."
In introducing Dr. Elion, Robert L. Capizzi, MD, Magee Professor of Medicine and Chairman of the Department, Jefferson Medical College (JMC), noted that, among numerous honors and professional activities on her lengthy curriculum vitae, Dr. Elion is a Dame of Malta.
"The Knights of Malta were founded in 1090 during the first Crusade," Dr. Capizzi added. "Placed in this context, Dr. Elion has been a quintessential crusader for science and medicine for almost 60 years."
Noting that Dr. Elion's first scientific paper was published in 1939, Dr. Capizzi remarked that "at present she has a few papers in press for 1998." He said her "58-year career has covered such disciplines as medicinal chemistry, pharmacology, enzymology, virology, bacteriology, organ transplantation and oncology. Her efforts have led to successful drug development in treating cancers and leukemias, viral and protozoal diseases, and even gout."
Visit Relevant for Jefferson
Following the lecture, Gerald Litwack, PhD, Associate Dean for Scientific Affairs, Jefferson Medical College, commented on the relevance of Dr. Elion's visit to Jefferson.
"At Jefferson, we have recognized the need to work more closely with pharmaceutical companies, as Dr. Elion has done throughout her remarkable career. Her stellar record shows how vital this current thrust is," said Dr. Litwack.
Dr. Litwack is leading Jefferson's expanded clinical trials activities in partnering with major pharmaceutical companies, particularly SmithKline Beecham (SB) as well as Merck & Co. Inc. and Rhone-Poulenc Rorer Inc.
He points out that in research today "universities and industries have a lot more to offer each other because most of the basic science that goes on in universities is now much closer to application than it has been in the past." He adds that Jefferson's research funding from industry is up sharply from a year ago, by about $5 million, much of which supports clinical trial research.
Both Dr. Capizzi and Dr. Litwack stressed Dr. Elion's talents as teacher as well as researcher. Dr. Litwack observed Dr. Elion's "enormous ability to impart information at a level that everybody can understand and to make it interesting."
And Dr. Capizzi said, "Dr. Elion has had a tremendous impact on countless scientists and budding scientists for whom her work has been an inspiration. Her career not only typifies true scientific inquiry, but the wonder of science and discovery."