University of Maryland scientist wins 2005 Kettering Prize

06/16/05

Dr. Angela Brodie pioneered development of aromatase inhibitors to treat breast cancer

Angela H. Brodie, Ph.D., professor of pharmacology and experimental therapeutics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and a researcher at the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center, has won the prestigious Charles F. Kettering Prize for her pioneering work in developing aromatase inhibitors, a new class of drugs widely used today to treat breast cancer.

The Kettering Prize recognizes the most outstanding recent contribution to the diagnosis or treatment of cancer. It is one of three $250,000 prizes presented annually by the General Motors Cancer Research Awards program to scientists throughout the world who have made seminal contributions to cancer research. Dr. Brodie is the first woman scientist to receive the Kettering Prize.

An internationally recognized cancer researcher, Dr. Brodie is being honored for discovering and developing a new class of drugs called aromatase inhibitors now in use worldwide. The drugs help to prevent recurrence of breast cancer in postmenopausal women by reducing the level of the hormone estrogen produced by the body, thereby cutting off the fuel that promotes the growth of cancer cells.

Unlike other breast cancer drugs that block the effect of estrogen, such as tamoxifen, they inhibit the production of aromatase, an enzyme that plays a key role in producing estrogen. The drugs also are used to treat postmenopausal women whose breast cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

"To be selected for the Kettering Prize is a tremendous honor, and I am very grateful to receive this kind of recognition," Dr. Brodie says. "I am very happy that the work we did turned out to be so beneficial for treating breast cancer patients."

Dr. Brodie began developing this novel approach of targeting aromatase in the early 1970s, initially working with her husband, Harry, a chemist who synthesized the early inhibitors. Dr. Brodie and her research team went on to create the first selective aromatase inhibitor to be used to treat breast cancer patients. Released for worldwide use in 1994, the drug, Formestane (4- hydroxyandrostenedione), was the first new compound in a decade specifically designed for the treatment of breast cancer.

Dr. Brodie's work paved the way for the development of other aromatase inhibitors. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved three aromatase inhibitors for the treatment of breast cancer. Recent studies are proving these inhibitors to be significantly more effective than the standard breast cancer drug, tamoxifen, which stops working after five years.

Samuel A. Wells, Jr., M.D., president of the General Motors Cancer Research Awards, says that Dr. Brodie was chosen to receive the 2005 Charles F. Kettering Prize after a "very rigorous selection process" by top scientists from around the world. "Dr. Brodie was awarded the prize for her pioneering work in the development of specific aromatase inhibitors. This new class of compounds has significantly improved the treatment of postmenopausal patients with estrogen- or progesterone-positive carcinoma of the breast," Dr. Wells says.

"This is one of the most prestigious awards in the world of science," says Donald E. Wilson, M.D., M.A.C.P., Vice President for Medical Affairs, University of Maryland, and Dean of the School of Medicine. "Dr. Brodie epitomizes the scholar scientist whose work not only addresses fundamental biological issues but also translates into improving the lives of patients with cancer. We are very fortunate to have Dr. Brodie on our faculty, and we salute her ground-breaking efforts in the fight against cancer."

"Many thousands of women worldwide now benefit from the outstanding work of Dr. Brodie and her team at the University of Maryland," says Kevin J. Cullen, M.D., director of the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center. "All of us at the Cancer Center are tremendously proud of Dr. Brodie. We congratulate her on winning this most deserved award."

Dr. Brodie developed a strong interest in the role of estrogens in breast cancer during her early years in research at the Christie Hospital in Manchester, England. She began investigating compounds to inhibit aromatase while at the Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology in Shrewsbury, Mass., and continued her work after coming to the University of Maryland School of Medicine in 1979.

She has expanded her research into prostate cancer and is now developing steroidal compounds that target key enzymes in the production of androgens, or male hormones, which play a role in recurrence of the cancer. She has received numerous awards, including the Brinker Award for Scientific Distinction from the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation in 2000, and has published more than 200 papers in professional journals. She is associate editor for Cancer Research and edits three other journals.

The Kettering Prize is named in honor of Charles F. Kettering, an inventor, former General Motors director and pioneer of the General Motors Research Laboratories. Mr. Kettering was a generous supporter of basic research in both industry and medicine. He and Alfred P. Sloan, Jr. established the Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research in New York in 1945.

Along with the Charles S. Mott Prize honoring an outstanding contribution relating to the cause or prevention of cancer, and the Alfred P. Sloan, Jr. Prize for outstanding basic science research, the Kettering Prize is considered by many to be the Nobel Prize of cancer research. Of the more than 100 scientists who have received one of the three prizes since 1979, 12 have gone on to win the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Dr. Brodie received a gold medal and the $250,000 prize at a gala in Washington, D.C., on June 15, 2005. She and the other winners, Roger D. Kornberg, Ph.D., of Stanford University (Sloan Prize) and Gerald N. Wogan, Ph.D., of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Mott Prize), lectured at the General Motors Cancer Research Awards annual scientific conference at the National Institutes of Health, which was held June 14 -15. Breast cancer was the focus of this year's conference.

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