V. Craig Jordan, PhD, a Founding Father of Targeted Therapy in Cancer, Dies at Age 76

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Craig Jordan, CMG, OBE, PhD, DSc, FMedSci, a pioneering scientist whose innovative work in breast cancer research has saved countless lives and will continue to impact the field for generations to come, died on June 9, according to a news release from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston. The cause of death was stage IV renal cell carcinoma.

Dr. Jordan was the discoverer of selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs), which revolutionized women’s health, from breast cancer treatment to osteoporosis prevention. He leaves behind a legacy of scientific brilliance and a life filled with adventure, dedication, and a deep sense of purpose. Beyond the charismatic man in a lab coat, he retained throughout his life a sense of childlike wonder about the rapidly changing world we live in, always eager to pitch and make a change for the better.

V. Craig Jordan, CMG, OBE, PhD, DSc, FMedSci

V. Craig Jordan, CMG, OBE, PhD, DSc, FMedSci

 Early Life and Education

Born in 1947 in New Braunfels, Texas, Dr. Jordan showed an early interest in science. His curiosity and passion for understanding the natural world guided him through his formative years. He shared these thoughts in an interview with The ASCO Post:

“My English mother married a warrior from America who’d seen action at D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge. They were married at our family church in 1945 and went off to America; however, the marriage didn’t work out, and she and I came back to Britain, where I was reared. My mother subsequently married Geoffrey W. Jordan, one of her friends who adopted me as his son. My natural father led a somewhat mysterious life, should we say, in the Far East, the Philippines, and had his headquarters in Silver Springs in Washington, which is apparently where the tricksters lived before, they go out on their secretive deeds,” Dr. Jordan explained.

Dr. Jordan’s love of science first took seed early on, as he converted his boyhood bedroom into a makeshift chemistry lab, one, as he put it, “was not one of those kid’s kits but rather built of things I obtained from the pharmacy and other things I ‘liberated’ from the school’s science department.’ There were multiple life-threatening accidents, when my experiments went awry, but in the end, it was all part of my life’s career path.”

According to Dr. Jordan, he was typically bored with much of his schoolwork at the Mosely Hall Grammar School, but the headmaster saw his percolating potential and helped him secure a seat at the prestigious University of Leeds, where he became captivated by cancer, seeing an enormous potential for research that could ultimately make a difference in the world. It was then that the world of pharmacology and oncology began to coalesce in the young scientist’s mind. Not one to shy away from the call of service to his country (his family had a rich history of military service), Dr. Jordan joined the Leeds University Officers Training Corps (OTC) adding yet another challenge to his already full plate.

“Because at the time I had a scholarship from the Medical Research Council, it gave me the scientific credentials to serve as a top security cleared captain in the nuclear chemical and biological warfare sector in Germany. It was a terrific time in my life, serving as a British officer and a PhD student!” recalled Dr. Jordan.

The Tamoxifen Breakthrough

After completing his PhD in pharmacology, Dr. Jordan began working on the structure of the activities of antiestrogens. As he detailed in his book, Tamoxifen Tales: Suggestions for Scientific Survival, the road to bringing tamoxifen—the prototypical SERM—to market was long and filled with twists and turns worthy of a novel. In a scientific saga that began in 1967 at ICI Pharmaceuticals, along with Steven Carter, MD, head of the anticancer screening program, Dr. Jordan’s name became synonymous with tamoxifen, the groundbreaking drug that transformed breast cancer treatment.

In the early 1970s, while working as a young researcher, he recognized the potential of tamoxifen, originally synthesized as a contraceptive, to treat and prevent breast cancer. His visionary research demonstrated that tamoxifen could effectively block estrogen receptors, thereby inhibiting the growth of hormone receptor–positive breast cancers. As well documented, Dr. Jordan’s work was initially met with skepticism, but his unwavering dedication and rigorous scientific approach eventually proved the drug’s efficacy. His pioneering efforts led to tamoxifen becoming a standard treatment for patients with breast cancer worldwide, significantly reducing mortality rates and improving the quality of life for millions of women.

Academic and Professional Achievements

Throughout his illustrious career, Dr. Jordan held numerous prestigious academic and research positions. He served as professor at various institutions, including the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Northwestern University, and The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. His work garnered widespread recognition, earning him several honorary degrees and awards.

Dr. Jordan was appointed Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (CMG) and Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his exceptional contributions to medicine. His election as a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences further cemented his status as a leading figure in medical research.

A Life of Adventure

Beyond his scientific achievements, Dr. Jordan was known for his adventurous spirit. He often recounted tales of his travels and expeditions, which took him to remote corners of the globe. Whether exploring the Amazon rainforest or scaling mountain peaks, he embraced life with enthusiasm and curiosity. These experiences enriched his perspective, making him not only a brilliant scientist, but also a deeply empathetic and worldly individual.

Mentorship and Legacy

Dr. Jordan’s impact extended far beyond his own research. He was a dedicated mentor to countless students and young researchers, inspiring them to pursue their passions and push the boundaries of scientific knowledge. His approachable demeanor, combined with his vast expertise, made him a cherished figure in the academic community.

Many of Dr. Jordan’s protégés have gone on to make significant contributions to breast cancer research and other fields, a testament to his lasting influence. His legacy lives on through the work of these individuals, who continue to build on the foundation he established.

Personal Life and Values

Dr. Jordan’s scientific accomplishments were matched by his dedication to his family and his unwavering commitment to ethical values. He was a devoted husband, father, and grandfather, whose love and support were a constant source of strength for his family. His kindness, humility, and integrity touched the lives of all who knew him.

In addition to his professional and familial commitments, Dr. Jordan was an active philanthropist. He supported numerous charitable organizations, particularly those focused on cancer research and patient support. His generosity and compassion extended to his personal interactions, where he was known for his genuine interest in the well-being of others.

A Living Legacy

As we remember Dr. Jordan, we celebrate not only his scientific achievements but also his spirit of adventure, his dedication to mentoring the next generation of researchers, and his deep compassion for others. His legacy is one of hope, innovation, and an unwavering commitment to making the world a better place.

In the words of Dr. Jordan himself: “Science is an adventure, and it’s the journey that matters, not just the destination.” His journey has left an indelible mark on the world, and his memory will be cherished by all who had the privilege of knowing him.

As we mourn his loss, we also celebrate the extraordinary legacy he leaves behind. In his own words: “Who would have dreamed all of this was possible for a kid who barely made it out of grade school?” Dr. Jordan remained fiercely optimistic about the possibilities ahead in cancer research. And because of dedicated scientists like him, so should we.