Monroe E. Wall, Chief Scientist at the Research Triangle Institute in Research Triangle Park, NC, died on July 6, 2002 at age 85. Together, we discovered the anticancer compound Taxol, which helped revolutionize modern cancer treatment. By isolating and elucidating the structure of this novel, bioactive natural product, we established new principles for discovering other bioactive compounds from natural sources. This discovery is directly credited with saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of cancer patients. Dr. Susan Band Horwitz, a friend of Dr. Wall, brought attention to Taxol by revealing that the drug stabilized microtubules, a new and unusual mechanism of action for an antitumor agent.
Born in 1916 in Newark, NJ, Dr. Wall received his B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ. In 1941, he joined the Eastern Regional Research Laboratory, United States Department of Agriculture in Philadelphia, PA. From 1941 to 1960, Dr. Wall gained national recognition as a government scientist in several areas of research, but he is best known for his research in steroid chemistry during this period.
In 1960, Dr. Wall joined the Research Triangle Institute (RTI) to start a chemistry research group. He became RTI Vice President for Chemistry and Life Sciences in 1971. Before retiring from administration in 1983 to devote all of his time to research, his group of approximately 180 full-time staff members included major divisions for analytical and environmental chemistry, life sciences and bioorganic chemistry, organic and medicinal chemistry, the physical sciences, and toxicology. In the course of building these programs over his RTI career, Dr. Wall brought recognition and acclaim to RTI and to himself. 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.
World renowned for his numerous contributions to the field of natural products research, he combined natural products research with the fields of organic chemistry, biochemistry, pharmacology, and, in particular, medicinal chemistry to discover and develop potentially useful drugs. Dr. Wall made significant contributions in the areas of drug abuse research, steroid research, drug metabolism, and pharmacokinetics, as well as in other areas of science, but he is best known for his contributions to the discovery and development of compounds for cancer chemotherapy.
As a colleague and very close friend of Dr. Wall for almost four decades, I consider myself very fortunate to have been associated with him in the discovery and development of two of the most promising anticancer agents, Taxol and camptothecin, which are benefiting millions of people all over the world. There are few people in the world who could match Dr. Wall’s love and passion for research to benefit humanity.
His numerous national and international honors and awards include honorary doctoral degrees from Uppsala University in Sweden and Rutgers University; the Alfred Burger Award of the American Chemical Society, the most prestigious award in medicinal chemistry; the American Association for Cancer Research Bruce F. Cain Memorial Award, which we shared; the National Cancer Institute Award of Recognition; and the General Motors Charles F. Kettering Prize, the highest honor in the field of cancer research that I shared with him for our pioneering work in medicinal chemistry. To recognize his valuable contributions to cancer chemotherapy, the Editors of Cancer Research featured Dr. Wall on the cover of the March 1994 and June 2000 issues. And to honor him, Rutgers University established the Monroe Wall Symposium, a biennial international scientific meeting about the search for pharmaceuticals from natural sources.
Dr. Wall is survived by his wife, Marian; a son, Michael Wall of Portland, OR; a daughter, Martha Webb of Potomac, MD; two sisters; and four grandchildren.
Monroe Wall’s colleagues at Research Triangle Institute, as well as scientists all over the world, have been inspired by his scientific abilities and have been equally impressed by his keen managerial ability combined with his people skills and warm concern for others. Two of his most outstanding qualities were his enthusiasm for anything he undertook and his determination to see that it was successfully completed. These qualities, together with his keen ability to persuade others to always achieve their best, have encouraged many colleagues and associates in their own work, making him one of the truly great leaders, scientists, and mentors.