A recipient of the 1998 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, Dr. Gertrude B. Elion was scientist emeritus with Glaxo Wellcome Inc., in Research Triangle Park, N.C.
After several years of laboratory work and teaching chemistry and physics, she joined Wellcome Research Laboratories in 1944 as a biochemist. She was later promoted to senior research chemist and assistant to the research director. In 1967, she was appointed head of the department of experimental therapy and continued in that position until 1983, when she retired and became scientist emeritus. Dr. Elion is credited with the synthesis and co-development of two of the first successful drugs for the treatment of leukemia (thioguanine and mercaptopurine), as well as azathioprine, an agent to prevent the rejection of kidney transplants and to treat rheumatoid arthritis. She also played a major role in the development of allopurinol for the treatment of gout and of acyclovir, the first selective antiviral agent against herpes virus infections.
She was president of the American Association for Cancer Research and served as a Presidential appointee on the National Cancer Advisory Board. Dr. Elion was elected to membership in the National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Society, the Institute of Medicine, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Inventors Hall of Fame, the National Women's Hall of Fame, and the Engineering and Science Hall of Fame.
She received 25 honorary doctorate degrees and was the recipient of numerous awards including the National Medal of Science, the Garvan Medal from the American Chemical Society, the President's Award from the American Association for Cancer Research, the Ernst W. Bertner Memorial Award from M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, the Discoverers Award from the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association, the Medal of Honor from the American Cancer Society, and the Lemeison/MIT Lifetime Achievement Award.
Dr. Elion received a bachelor's degree from Hunter College in 1937 and a master's degree in chemistry from New York University in 1941. She passed away on February 21, 1999.