Image: Gerry Potter, who played an important part in the discovery of abiraterone. Credit: family of Gerry Potter
Former colleagues at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, have reacted with great sadness to news of the untimely death of Gerry Potter, at the age of 63.
Gerry was a pioneering chemist whose achievements included playing an important part in the discovery of the prostate cancer drug abiraterone.
Following a research studentship under the supervision of Dr Ray McCague, Gerry took up a postdoctoral fellowship funded by British Technology Group in the autumn of 1990.
His remit was to develop inhibitors of testosterone synthesis for the potential treatment of prostate cancer, by targeting the enzyme CYP17 – a project conceived by Dr Elaine Barrie and Professor Mike Jarman.
Within weeks of taking up his post he had conceived and made the drug we now know as abiraterone, which proved to be extremely good at inhibiting CYP17.
Abiraterone: a story of scientific innovation and commercial partnership
There followed two to three years of the necessary process of making and testing analogues – chemicals similar to abiraterone – but none of these proved as effective as abiraterone itself. A patent protecting abiraterone was filed in 1993 and the drug progressed to a pilot clinical study in 1995.
For that study a method of making larger quantities of abiraterone was needed and Gerry, working with colleague Dr Ian Hardcastle, achieved this before completing his postdoctoral fellowship and moving on. He was appointed as Professor of Medicinal Chemistry at De Montfort University only a few years after leaving the ICR.
In 2011, Gerry was one of five leading members of the ICR’s Abiraterone Discovery and Clinical Development Team to receive the Royal Society of Chemistry's Teamwork in Innovation Award – by which time successive clinical trials had continued under the leadership of Professor Johann de Bono.
The drug was licensed by Johnson & Johnson in 2009 and went on to show benefits in major trials, before being approved for use in standard treatment.
Gerry’s former colleague Professor Mike Jarman said:
“On a personal level I found Gerry Potter one of the most exciting and innovative scientists that it has ever been my pleasure to work with. Though he has so sadly passed on, abiraterone itself continues to flourish and achieve ever new applications in prostate cancer treatment.”
Professor Kristian Helin, Chief Executive of the ICR, said:
“Gerry was a pioneering scientist and played an important part in the story of the discovery and development of abiraterone, which is one of the ICR’s proudest achievements. We were greatly saddened at the ICR to learn of his death.”