Dr. Druker's Profile

From the Lab to the Clinic: Compassion, Passion for Science

Dr. Brian Druker - Profile

Dr. Brian Druker cares about cancer patients.

The internationally known researcher and recipient of the 2009 Lasker-DeBakey Award for Clinical Medical Research learned about the rigors of chemotherapy in medical school. “I imagined there had to be a better way to treat cancer,” Druker remembers.

As a young oncologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Druker remembers giving patients with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) the bad news that their disease had progressed. Now director of the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute and JELD-WEN Chair of Leukemia Research, Druker wrote to the families of patients who died, promising to find a cure.

The promise of time and space for research led Druker from Harvard to Oregon Health & Science University in 1993. He met Grover Bagby, M.D., founder of the Oregon Cancer Institute. Bagby dreamed of a world-class Oregon cancer center, and Druker welcomed the chance to help patients while developing better cancer treatments.

Vision inspires philanthropic support

When Bagby retired in 2007, Druker was named Director of the OHSU Cancer Institute. The following year, a transformational gift of $100 million from Nike co-founder Phil Knight and his wife, Penny, helped to build on Dr. Druker’s vision for fighting cancer. The institute was named the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute in recognition of the Knights’ gift, and Druker recruited top cancer experts from around the country to join the team.

On June 25 OHSU Knight Cancer Institute completed the unprecedented $1 billion Knight Cancer Challenge campaign to put an end to cancer. OHSU beat the Knights’ deadline by seven months and garnered support from donors in every state in the nation and five countries. Donors were inspired by plans for the first grand-scale program of its kind dedicated to radically transforming early detection of lethal cancers ― one of the biggest unmet needs in cancer care today.

With $1 billion in new funding, the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute will begin fast-track recruitment of 250 to 300 scientists and physician investigators, including about 25 of the world’s top researchers. These leading scientists will be given the financial support they need to ensure they can focus on research rather than administration of grants.

The development of Gleevec

Phil Knight and Brian Druker

His patients’ need for a cure and his promise to find one inspired Druker to develop the drug Gleevec into a powerful weapon against chronic myeloid leukemia. Gleevec, which attacks the protein causing overproduction of white blood cells in CML, is also used to treat gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST). This revolutionized the way cancer is treated as Gleevec is designed to zero in on specific cancer-causing molecules, eliminating cancer cells while avoiding serious damage to other, non-cancerous cells. Before Gleevec, 50% of patients with CML survived their disease. In its first trials, Gleevec saved the lives of patients who tried it — patients who had exhausted other chances for a cure. Now, nearly 90% survive. Here is info from an OHSU 2006 press release and from a recent paper in Leukemia by Dr. Druker and colleagues.

Awards

For his contributions to medical research, Druker was nominated for the Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award in 2009. Established in 1945 by Albert and Mary Woodward Lasker, the Lasker Awards are sometimes called "America's Nobel;" many winners have later received the Nobel Prize. Past awardees, selected by an international jury, include Anthony Fauci, Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Christopher Reeve. Druker received his award, which he shares with scientific collaborators Nicholas Lydon and Charles Sawyers, during a ceremony in October, 2009 in New York City.

In his office, Druker keeps a bulletin board covered with his patients’ photos. In thanking the Lasker Award committee, he also thanked his patients “who have gone on this incredible journey with me.” The Lasker Award brings acclaim and invaluable support for Druker’s journey towards new cancer treatments - a journey that can only benefit more patients.

Druker’s other career milestones include being named a Howard Hughes Medical Investigator in 2002, becoming a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 2007, winning the Japan Award 2011 in and being elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 2012. The soft-spoken Minnesotan, who fits exercise into his schedule by running to work, received his M.D. from the University of California School of Medicine at San Diego, completed his residency in internal medicine at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, and did an oncology fellowship at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute at Harvard Medical School.

 
From his earliest days, Druker was a dedicated researcher, winning the President’s Undergraduate Research Award at the University of California, San Diego. He is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, the Medal of Honor from the American Cancer Society, and many other awards.

His greatest daily reward is “seeing patients in clinic who have benefited from my work.”