In Memoriam: Professor Kurt Hellmann

Kurt Hellman

We regret announce that the renowned medical pharmacologist Professor Kurt Hellmann - one of the most eminent pioneers in metastasis research and treatment - died on April 3rd 2013. He was a stalwart and active supporter of the Metastasis Research Society for many years and will be sadly missed by his many friends, colleagues and collaborators. We wish to extend our condolences to his family and especially his wife Jane who devotedly supported him throughout his long and productive life Professor Kurt Hellmann was the Director of the Department of Cancer Chemotherapy at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (now the Cancer Research UK London Research Institute) from 1962 to 1987 and an honorary consultant at the Radiotherapy & Oncology Department, Westminster Hospital, London from 1972 to 1993.

One of Professor Hellman’s major contributions to science and medicine was the discovery of the cytoprotective and anti-metastatic activities of ‘ICRF159’/razoxane at the Lincoln's Inn Fields laboratories, London, in the early 1970's. His prescient description of its unique activities was published in the BMJ in early 1972: 'Metastases and the normalization of tumour blood vessels by ICRF159: a new type of drug action' and reprinted as an influential 'classic' paper in Clinical & Experimental Metastasis in 2008. Hence this early key publication showed how in experimental models an agent that impacted on endothelial cell biology could prevent the spread of cancer cells. This idea that reversion of tumour vasculature to a more normal physiology was a viable therapeutic approach has since been ‘rediscovered’ and popularised in the wake of the burgeoning interest in anti-angiogenic agents. Clinically, razoxane was shown to prevent colon cancer liver metastases in the adjuvant setting and to enhance chemoradiotherapy and to suppress metastasis in soft tissue sarcomas, partly through improved delivery of oxygen and drugs. In addition, dexrazoxane - ICRF187, a more soluble (+) enantiomer - was shown to be cardioprotective in women with breast cancer treated with anthracyclines and later in a paediatric patients. Importantly, in this context dexrazoxane provides cardioprotection without compromising drug efficacy or enhancing the rate of second malignancies.

Currently, dexrazoxane is the only approved agent for preventing anthracycline-induced cardiotoxicity. Finally, razoxane and dexrazoxane were recently shown to be cytoprotective in neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s. The fascinating story of these remarkable molecules, and the challenges in their development for clinical approval is told in a recent monograph edited by Hellmann & Rhomberg: "Razoxane and Dexrazoxane - Two Multifunctional Agents" (Springer 2011, ISBN:978-90-481-9167-3). Remarkably, this book was published as Kurt approached 90 years of age. A fuller account of Professor Hellmann’s life and career was published as a 90th birthday tribute in Clinical & Experimental Metastasis in 2012 (http://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007%2Fs10585-012-9513-1)

In addition to his clinical and laboratory commitments, Kurt Hellmann was very active in promoting his main interest (metastasis) via publications and conferences. In the 1970s he founded the E.O.R.T.C. ‘Metastasis Club’ which initially had around 30-40 European members. This developed into the 'Metastasis Research Society' and its first international meeting ‘Treatment of Metastasis: Problems and Prospects’ was organised by Kurt Hellmann and Sue Eccles in London in 1984. The Society has grown from these small beginnings into a renowned international organisation which at its last conference in Melbourne, Australia, attracted several hundred delegates from all over the world. He was also instrumental in the inauguration of the journal 'Clinical & Experimental Metastasis' in 1983 which he co-edited with Garth Nicolson, Sue Eccles, and Luka Milas until 1998, remaining as a valued Emeritus Editor until his death. Kurt Hellmann remained active as a writer, discussant, advisor and benefactor until the very end of his remarkable and productive life. It is notable that his last letter to the Editor of the Journal of Clinical Oncology was published just weeks before his death. (DOI:10.1200/JCO.2012.46.9908 February 25th 2013).

Upon notice of his passing, tributes flowed in from colleagues and friends around the world. Unanimously, they attest to his intelligence, insatiable desire to attain perfection, incredible work ethic, persistence toward obtaining his goals and unswerving focus on the things he deemed important. He was recognised as ‘a pioneer and advocate of translational medicine whose death is a huge loss for society and science‘ and ‘a great man and a great innovator‘. Many of us have him to thank for his unwavering support for our research careers – particularly we scientists who were gently but firmly reminded of clinical realities when we proposed, based on lab experiments, that ‘agent X may have potential therapeutic value‘. His legacy will live on in his erudite writings and in the work of all those he has inspired over his long life and exceptional career.

 

Suzanne A. Eccles, PhD

Tumour Biology and Metastasis
Cancer Research UK Cancer Therapeutics Unit
The Institute of Cancer Research, Sutton, Surrey

 

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