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Trailblazers in Drug Discovery

The Kimmel Cancer Center has a long history of moving cancer medicines forward. Whether it was the Cancer Center’s first director, Albert Owens, and his recruit George Santos developing a preparative drug regimen for bone marrow transplant; Michael Colvin deciphering how cyclophosphamide works and becoming one of the first to use it in high doses to treat cancer patients; Ross Donehower, creating a pre-medication that reduced what seemed like the insurmountable toxicities of paclitaxel, now a mainstay in cancer therapy; or David Ettinger ensuring that studies of promising new cancer drugs were made available to cancer patients throughout the U.S. through outreach to community physicians, our experts were trailblazers in drug discovery and development.

After the National Cancer Act was announced in 1971, Johns Hopkins became the site of one of the first comprehensive cancer centers designated by the National Cancer Institute and one of the first to earn a grant to begin clinical trials of new drugs. Our experts quickly earned recognition as they aggressively tested the limits and power of existing drugs, and invented new agents when what we had failed to get the job done. In 1973, when our Cancer Center opened its doors for the first time, there was no such thing as combined therapies. There wasn’t a single genetic mutation or epigenetic change linked to cancer, and no one understood why the immune system was idle against cancer. Today, our experts have led the science in each of these areas and the translation of the science into new drug therapies that target every kind of cancer driver. They continue to be among the best in the world at discovering cancer-promoting changes that can be targeted with therapy, finding or developing drugs that promise to go after the cancer target, and developing tests known as assays that show whether or not the drug is having the intended effect on the target.

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