Dean Monti,Danielle Piquette 2015-07-31 00:15:51
Early on in his career, noted dermatologist and entrepreneur, Phillip Frost, MD, was a clinical associate at the National Cancer Institute (NCI). It was there that he met his lifelong mentor, Eugene J. Van Scott, MD, who was the chief of the Dermatology Branch at the time. Their collaboration would be life-changing and world-changing. With generous gifts to the American Academy of Dermatology, Dr. Frost has helped create and sustain the Eugene J. Van Scott Award for Innovative Therapy of the Skin and Phillip Frost Leadership Lecture since 2007. The lectureship—which recognizes outstanding, novel and innovative contributions in the treatment of skin diseases and conditions—has been a vital part of the Plenary session at the AAD’s Annual Meeting and has become a showcase for luminaries in big science. The innovations presented have been game-changers for dermatology—and far-reaching, transcending into and beyond the larger world of medicine. In an exclusive interview for Aspire, Drs. Frost and Van Scott pulled back the curtain on their passions that have resulted in one of the most talked-about lectureships at the AAD’s Annual Meeting. Q You enjoy a unique position as both an entrepreneur and a dermatologist. How do these roles intersect and/or inform each other? A Well to start, someone who’s doing research in any field is in a way an entrepreneur. He has to undertake a project, arrange for the funding, then execute and decide what to do with the results. It may be purely academic and the results will be included in publications and presentations, or it may lead to the development of some type of product—such as an instrument or drug, or a diagnostic product. In my particular case, it was the process of doing various types of research at the NIH, the University of Pennsylvania, and later at the University of Miami, that made it very natural for me to enter the business world as an entrepreneur. It actually started with a very insignificant development for an instrument that applied to dermatology. The instrument was used to do punch biopsies and needed to be cleaned, sterilized, and sharpened with every use. The innovation came with making it disposable. That was my first venture into the business world, and it led to my participation in the pharmaceutical business. Having a desire to create something new and better is what helped lead me from one step to the other. In the case with the punch biopsy, the first step of the process was identifying the problem with it. And the solution was very simple. As I went on in the pharmaceutical business, other simple problems had equally simple answers which led to the creation of products with great commercial value. My thought process is very similar in that I’m very involved in academic research and applying that to the development of a business. Q How did the lectureship evolve? A First, I wanted to honor my good friend and mentor, Dr. Van Scott, with whom I worked at the National Cancer Institute. At the time, I thought that the creation of the award for innovation in therapeutic skin care would be a good way to connect us to the specialty, and respect Dr. Van Scott’s own interest in innovation in medicine. Q Do you see the innovations as a continuum for other dermatologists who are exploring applications beyond our specialty? A New Academy president, Mark Lebwohl, MD, has been talking about psoriasis and the inroads being made that go beyond dermatology applications. For example, new drugs for psoriasis are also being used in medical arenas for autoimmune or inflammatory diseases. With modern medicine, and modern pharmacology, the tendency is to develop drugs that apply to many different therapeutic areas. That is because they relate to the discovery of specific molecular targets that play a role in numerous processes—for example, inflammation, which occurs across the board in many diseases. Whether one in is working in dermatology, or rheumatology, or even cardiology, it wouldn’t be surprising that a drug for one area will be useful in another. That is the kind of development we’re seeing now. Q Do you recall your first impressions of Dr. Frost? A One of the smartest men on the planet, in science, business and creativity. He has “wide horizons” in many different distinguished fields. He was studying art before entering the field of dermatology. When he came on as a clinical associate—when I was director of the dermatology efforts at the National Cancer Institute—I encouraged him to pursue his own research interests. And time has shown that he has been an amazing, achieving scientist and businessman. Q How do you view the roles of dermatologist and innovator/entrepreneur intersecting? A They intersect all the time. Innovation, research, and discovery are all important, but what’s more important is its innate value. You can see examples of that everywhere throughout history, whether it’s in a laboratory, in a garage, like the Wright Brothers, in an academic setting, or even in industry. And I think today, more than ever, you see that interaction between discovering something and marketing it. But special connection can take place in any arena. And the purpose of innovation and discovery is to provide better care/ more treatment alternatives for patients. Q What is the discovery process like? A I believe it’s an addiction to discovery that comes first. It’s part of the person. You have an idea and you pursue it and perhaps you come upon a discovery that you weren’t even looking for—but then it changes the path and gives clues to other areas; and then you follow through on it to wherever it leads. Very often it leads to increasingly beneficial discoveries. Q What role has innovation played in your career as a dermatologist and as an entrepreneur? A I think I was born with an addiction to discovery. I grew up on a farm and we had an old smokehouse that wasn’t being used that my father let me use as a laboratory, and I was doing experiments with milkweed. It emits a huge amount of latex material and I made some sort of substance, not as good as rubber, but I was experimenting. Thomas Edison was an influence on me, and Alexis Carrell’s tissue culture of embryonic chick hearts. All of that captured my imagination. Later, at the University of Chicago, I was influenced by Stephen Rothman from Hungary (who wrote The Physiology and Biochemistry of the Skin). He described dermatology as the science of diseases of the skin and other organs that it relates to. That really made an impression on me. My entrepreneurial spirit was inspired by people like Charles B. Huggins, a urologist who won the Nobel prize for his work in cancer. His motto was “discovery is our business.” And of course, Ruey Yu, Ph.D., OMD, has been a most important person in my life. We launched NeoStrata together. We’ve been working together for about a half a century now. Among his words of wisdom is his admonition “a diploma isn’t worth a thing until you put it to use.” And you can say the same of discovery—it’s not worth anything, by itself, until you put it to use for the benefit of humankind. As an entrepreneur, I increasingly see discovery and innovation intersect with industry. For instance, mexotrexate was a drug developed to treat certain kinds of cancer. Because of its large availability in the pharmaceutical world, we were able to put it to use for psoriasis. That’s one example of how commercialization facilitates availability for use in other ways. They are linked together more than is generally recognized. Q What role do you see innovation playing in dermatology and its impact in the larger world of medicine? A The skin is a barrier between the environment and a translator of the environment, whether it’s touch or taste; the skin is an organ that relates to the entire body so importantly. The immune system for example. The skin is a huge player. The work being done by investigative dermatologists is filled with relationships other than problems with the skin alone. For example, the first Van Scott Award and Frost Lectureship was presented to Douglas Lowy, MD, in 2008 (see timeline below). The research he did led to the first-ever vaccine against HPV. That’s an outstanding example of the far-reaching impact of innovative dermatology research applied in the larger world. The wider implications are there and are waiting to be discovered. Q How did you consent to lend your name to the lectureship that has been an integral part of the Academy’s Plenary session? A Phil called me and asked what I thought of the idea and when I saw his name was attached to it, I thought it was a great idea; he’s one of the most important people of our time. It was a double honor, really, because Phil has taught me so much about science and investment, plus I’m associated with a lectureship that hopefully will stimulate the minds of people who will make great discoveries in the future. Q Can you tell us why you support the Academy and its interests? A The world is changing and dermatology is changing. We need to make sure that dermatology never loses sight of dealing with serious issues, illnesses and problems of the people in the world. I can see dermatology’s huge potential to make that difference in the world, and it’s so important to support the Academy and its efforts. The AAD been a very influential organization for teaching and its programs have excellent science in them. It’s good to look at that and continue to ask: where have we been, where are we now, and where are we going? And if there’s something we can do better, let’s do it better.• Phillip Frost, MD, is Emeritus Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the University of Miami, and Chairman and CEO of OPKO Health, Inc., a multinational biopharmaceutical and diagnostics company headquartered in Miami, Florida Eugene J. Van Scott, MD There is not enough ink on the page to elaborate on Dr. Van Scott’s more than 50 years of significant and noteworthy achievements in dermatology innovation and entrepreneurship. After receiving B.S. and M.D. degrees from the Universities of Michigan and Chicago, respectively, Dr. Van Scott completed his internship and residency in dermatology at the University of Chicago. In 1968, he joined the Skin & Cancer Hospital in Philadelphia as a professor of dermatology. His early interests in neoplasia led him into the field of cancer research. For more than 15 years, Dr. Van Scott served as the branch chief for dermatology at NCI, where he influenced Dr. Frost so greatly that Frost chose to recognize him through the honored award and lectureship that shares their names. Dr. Van Scott is also co-founder of The NeoStrata Company, Inc.
Published by American Academy Of Dermatology. View All Articles.