Leading Cancer Researcher and Public Health-Care Expert, Eddie Reed, MD, Dies

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Eddie Reed, MD

In a 2010 interview, Eddie Reed, MD, a pioneer in the molecular pharmacology of DNA-damaging anticancer agents and the clinical development of paclitaxel for ovarian cancer, was asked what lay ahead. Before answering, Dr. Reed first acknowledged the esteemed mentors who gave him their most precious commodity: time.

“I’ve been very fortunate to have had mentors who spent a lot of their valuable time and resources giving me help that I would not have otherwise received.” He then elucidated the exciting work in molecular pharmacology that he and his group were planning for the future.

Dr. Eddie Reed died on May 28, 2014, at the age of 60.

Humblest of Beginnings

Dr. Reed was born to Floyd and Gennora Reed on December 17, 1953, in rural Arkansas, one of 16 children in one of the state’s last sharecropper families. The barriers they faced as a family and what it took to overcome those barriers would inform a central core of Dr. Reed’s career. An outstanding student throughout his early school years, he attended Mildred Jackson School and graduated at the top of his class from Hughes High School in Hughes,

Dr. Reed was accepted to the private, “historically black” Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas. After obtaining his undergraduate degree from Philander Smith College, Dr. Reed pursued a medical degree at Yale University School of Medicine, in New Haven, Connecticut, graduating in 1979. He completed his internship and residency at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, in 1981, and was then accepted for a fellowship at the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

Beginning of a Great Career

Dr. Reed’s time at the NCI further consolidated his goals as a cancer researcher, working alongside some of the brightest researchers in the country. From 1985 to 2001, he served in a variety of increasingly responsible roles at the NCI, culminating with his appointment as Chief of the Pharmacology Branch and Chief of the Ovarian Cancer and Metastatic Prostate Cancer Clinic in the Division of Clinical Science, becoming the first African American branch chief to serve at the Institute.

Of the many colleagues and mentors who helped nourish Dr. Reed’s career, he singled out Bruce Chabner, MD, who was NCI’s Director of the Division of Cancer Treatment from 1981 to 1995. “More than any other single person, Bruce Chabner has played a central role in my professional development. I know of many others for whom the same statement would be true,” wrote Dr. Reed in a tribute to Dr. Chabner.

Increasingly, Dr. Reed became internationally recognized as a rigorous and innovative researcher. Much of his clinical investigation centered on DNA damage and repair in cancer cells. Dr. Reed was also a renowned authority on the use of the anticancer agents paclitaxel and cisplatin. From 2001 to 2005, Dr. Reed served as Director of the Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center at West Virginia University, Morgantown, and held academic appointments in the University’s Departments of Internal Medicine, Microbiology, Immunology, Cell Biology, and Basic Pharmaceutical Sciences.

Scientist Humanitarian

Along with clinical research, Dr. Reed was deeply involved in many public health cancer prevention, screening, and control programs. In 2005, Dr. Reed was recruited to serve as the Director of the Division of Cancer Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in Atlanta. At the CDC, Dr. Reed managed the scientific and programmatic activities in cancer surveillance, cancer epidemiology, public health science, public health policy, and the early detection and prevention programs in cancer.

In 2008, Dr. Reed joined the USA Mitchell Cancer Institute in Mobile, Alabama, where he served as Clinical Director while continuing his research that concentrated on molecular pharmacology and clinical development of novel platinum compounds, with a chief focus on ovarian cancer and metastatic prostate cancer. While at the Mitchell Cancer Institute, Dr. Reed also worked closely with Alabama’s cancer screening and control programs.

A Larger Stage

In 2013, the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) of the National Institutes of Health announced, “Eddie Reed, MD, an award-winning physician and internationally recognized cancer researcher, will serve as the Clinical Director for the NIMHD Intramural Research Program.”

Dr. Reed’s friend and longtime colleague during his years at the NCI, James Mulshine, MD, wrote a letter of support to the NIMHD in which he stated, “Dr. Reed’s independence and productivity as a scientist was validated in 1991 with the awarding of NIH tenure. As a result of the respect he is afforded in the academic world, he went on to senior research appointments at two universities and the CDC. Through a series of studies and high-impact publications, Dr. Reed elucidated key aspects of how to coordinate chemistry effects and drug responsiveness. His work is highly original and rigorous and has greatly impacted the understanding of drug resistance across the field of clinical pharmacology.”

A Legacy Remembered

Dr. Reed was a very active member of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR). In addition to serving as a member of the AACR Board of Directors from 2008 to 2011, he was elected as Chair of the AACR Minorities in Cancer Research Council, serving a term from 2009 to 2010.

He also served on the National Advisory Council on Minority Health and Health Disparities and on the Institute of Medicine’s National Cancer Policy Forum. He twice received the U.S. Public Health Service Commendation Medal. Dr. Reed was author or coauthor of more than 275 peer-reviewed research and clinical publications, and is named inventor on eight patents.

Lovell Jones, PhD, former Director of the Center for Research on Minority Health at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, offered this thought about Dr. Reed, his friend and colleague: “Long before, the idea of public health disparities became recognized as a major factor in making us an unhealthy society, the idea of broadly addressing health became a part of Eddie’s career trajectory. When he became head of the Division of Cancer Prevention and Control at CDC, it was all part of a plan—a plan cut short by his death. That is why his loss is not just the loss of one human being, but a critical loss in our efforts to address one of this nation’s most serious problems, health inequities.”

In honor of Dr. Reed’s dedication and advocacy for underserved cancer populations, his friends and colleagues established the Dr. Eddie Reed Fellowship Program in Global Oncology. It will bring cancer care trainees from Africa to Massachusetts General Hospital and its collaborators at Harvard University and other American academic centers.

Dr. Eddie Reed left this world far too soon; much of his planned work was unfinished. He will be remembered as a brilliant researcher and a courtly person with unshakable convictions about the true meaning and dedication of being a doctor. His legacy is well worth remembering. ■