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Judah Folkman: 1933-2008

Judah Folkman, a most extraordinary scientist, died Monday at age 74. Orac (Respectful Insolence) posted a fitting tribute which I highly recommend. See also Alex’s (Daily Transcript) entry and this New York Times article.


Thanks to the intricate academic vascular network between Harvard and Boston biotech, Folkman visited the company in Cambridge MA for which I previously worked. His seminar enthralled us and exemplified his ability to communicate so effectively. Folkman’s persistent championship of the anti-angiogenic drugs born of his research illustrates his belief in his work and also the challenges of bringing novel chemical entities into the clinic. Development of orally administered small molecule antagonists of angiogenesis followed the entry of Avastin, Genentech’s monoclonal antibody therapeutic, into the clinical sphere. Astra-Zeneca’s Iressa and Pfizer’s Sutent, which interfere with angiogenesis through inhibition of key receptor tyrosine kinases (epidermal growth factor receptor for Iressa; multiple tyr kinases for Sutent), were discovered by building upon Folkman’s pivotal discoveries. See this diagram from Nature Reviews Drug Discovery for the simplified sites of interaction for these drugs. Thanks to Dr. Folkman, angiogenesis remains a continued source of interest for the discovery of new chemotherapeutics.

Folkman was interviewed by NOVA in 2001. A film clip may be found within that site.

Folkman was one of those scientific giants who was also a charismatic and accessible man. His passing is a tremendous loss to the biomedical community, but he has left us with a rich legacy.