Monroe E. Wall, Co-Discoverer of Cancer Drug Taxol, Dies
Monroe E. Wall, Ph.D., died July 6 at age 85.
Dr. Wall was one of RTI's research giants. He was co-discoverer of the anti-cancer compounds Taxol® and camptothecin™, and two years ago he and long-time colleague Mansukh C. Wani, Ph.D., were awarded the prestigious Charles F. Kettering Prize for their pioneering work in medicinal chemistry.
In honor of both Dr. Wall and Dr. Wani, RTI plans to establish post-doctoral and visiting scientist fellowships in its Natural Products Laboratory, with an endowment to support these scientists in self-directed research.
President Victoria F. Haynes said, "Monroe Wall was one of our founding employees, and one of our most outstanding. Through his achievements, such as his work on Taxol and other drugs, he made substantial contributions to improving the human condition. His long and productive career at RTI also contributed immensely to RTI's scientific stature. We revere him and will miss him both personally and professionally."
Dr. Wall's life was in his work and he could be found in the laboratory every day up until he became ill two weeks ago and entered a local hospital.
A senior scientist in Chemistry and Life Sciences (CLS), Dr. Wall came to RTI in 1960 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture specifically to start a chemistry research group here. In addition to carrying on his own research, he served as research vice president from 1971 to 1983, during which time he helped build up RTI's staff and capabilities in the areas of analytical and environmental chemistry, life sciences and bioorganic chemistry, organic and medicinal chemistry, and toxicology. He also taught at the University of North Carolina and North Carolina State University, and was a consultant to the National Cancer Institute and other federal agencies.
In addition to the Kettering Prize--the highest honor in the field of cancer research--Dr. Wall was the recipient of the Department of Agriculture's Superior Accomplishment award, the American Pharmaceutical Association's top research prize for natural products chemistry, and the American Pharmacognosy Society's Research Achievement Award. In 1998 he was awarded the American Chemical Society's Alfred Burger Award, the most prestigious award in medicinal chemistry.
The Wall-Wani discoveries of Taxol and camptothecin in the 1960s helped revolutionize modern cancer research. By isolating and elucidating the structure of these novel, bioactive natural products, they unearthed new mechanisms of action for inhibiting cancer call growth and established new principles for discovering other bioactive compounds from natural sources. Their discoveries are directly credited with saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of cancer sufferers.
Dr. Wall's experience in isolating small quantities of natural products from plants helped him pioneer techniques for isolating drug metabolites. In the 1970s he became one of the first individuals to use mass spectroscopy and NMR to obtain the structures of drug metabolites.
A native of Newark, New Jersey, Dr. Wall received his B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees from Rutgers University. To honor him, the university has established the Monroe Wall Symposium, a biennial international scientific meeting about the search for pharmaceuticals from sources in nature.
Surviving family members include his wife, Marian; a son, Michael Wall of Portland, OR; a daughter, Martha Nebb of Potomac, MD; two sisters: Martha Schonberg of Jersey City, NJ, and Flora Friedman of West Orange, NJ; and four grandchildren: Eli and Jonathan Wall and Sarah and David Nebb.