Director of the Drug Discovery Program at the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center Milton Brown received the annual Percy L. Julian Award for his work in new drug discovery and testing against molecular targets on Nov. 1.
The National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers presented Brown with the award, the organization’s highest honor.
Brown is currently testing several drugs through clinical trials at Lombardi Center’s Drug Discovery Program, which develops therapeutic discoveries into preclinical studies. Brown founded the program in 2006. In the past, he has tested drugs for cancer, epilepsy, hypertension and kidney disease.
Brown graduated from Oakwood University with a degree in biology and received both his doctorate and post doctorate from the University of Virginia, where he taught until 2006. In 2008, Georgetown named him the Edwin H. Richard and Elizabeth Richard von Matsch Endowed Chair for Experimental Therapeutics, a program that seeks to reduce cancer through drug development and the discovery of treatment approaches.
President of the NOBCChE Talitha Hampton commended Brown’s leadership skills, creative spirit and scientific expertise.
“We believe that people like Dr. Brown embody the innovative entrepreneurial spirit that comes with breakthrough science and not only is Dr. Brown doing breakthrough science but he’s mentoring people and reaching back and all of those things combined are what make him such a strong candidate where he’s not just a scientist or an M.D.-Ph.D., he’s a fervent leader,” Hampton said. “His success is really an accomplishment.”
Brown said that he will continue his research and experimentation with potentially life-saving drugs, highlighting his strengths in the field.
“Everyone has their niche and I guess my niche is discovering new medicine,” Brown said.
Brown also commented on the impact of the award on both current and potential Georgetown students, expressing hope that it would encourage them to see the university as a viable research institution. Brown is currently a professor of molecular and cellular biology, oncology, neuroscience, pharmacology and physiology.
“Seeing my students attain success is probably the most rewarding part of the experience,” Brown said. “I’ve had a number of students who were even at the awards ceremony or following it online, on Twitter, who have decided to join Georgetown, to come here and work in my group and come look at my teaching.”
Hampton said that Brown serves as an inspiration for students wishing to pursue drug discovery.
“A student coming up himself can look at Dr. Brown and say I can do that because of what I’ve seen and everyone has a story to tell,” Hampton said. “And when you hear his story, many times students can see themselves in Dr. Brown and then they’ll just feel encouraged to take it a little step further.”
In determining the recipient of the award, NOBCChE also took into account 2014 winner Cato Laurencin’s recommendation. Laurencin expressed admiration for Brown and emphasized the ways in which he fulfilled the qualities embodied in the award.
“He’s a great scientist, a great mentor and a great role model for many people. He’s the perfect person to receive the Percy Julian Award and Medal,” Laurencin said. “Percy Julian was a persistent scientist and dauntless in his pursuit of excellence. I think that Dr. Brown is much like that.”
Lombardi Center Director Louis Weiner similarly praised Brown’s forward thinking.
“In my view, that’s where his greatest strengths have been. He’s interested and capable of taking molecules all the way forward,” Weiner said. “It’s hard to do.”
One of Brown’s Ph.D. mentees Antoinette Cordova (GRD ’15) worked on her breast cancer thesis under his guidance. Cordova praised Brown’s aptitude as a mentor.
“He could give me advice on the project from a chemical perspective, from a biological perspective, from a perspective therapy later down the line in the clinic,” Cordova said. “When you first start off a Ph.D. program, you’re kind of venturing into new territory. And, you really need someone to kind of push you and guide you into really believing in your ideas and going for it. He is excellent at doing that.”
Brown also mentored Perrer Tosso (GRD ’14) for six years at both the University of Virginia and Georgetown. Tosso stressed Brown’s instrumental influence in guiding his career path.
“He helped me in my training as a chemist and also to have a comprehensive view of traditional chemistry,” Tosso said. “Those years I spent with him, he helped me grow not just as a scientist but also as a person as well and I really appreciate that.”
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