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Distinguished ASU cancer researcher George R. Pettit retires after 55 years of service

School of Molecular Sciences Regents Professor George R. Pettit is being recognized for 55 years of service at ASU.

September 28, 2020

Acclaimed Regents Professor George Robert “Bob” Pettit is retiring from the School of Molecular Sciences after a 55-year career at Arizona State University, where he was the director of the Cancer Research Institute and Dalton Professor of Cancer Research and Medicinal Chemistry. Pettit has been a leader in anti-cancer research, identifying and developing medicinal drugs obtained from marine animals and other natural sources as anti-cancer agents. As a result of his research, Pettit holds nearly 70 patents for anti-cancer compounds. 

Ian Gould, director of the School of Molecular Sciences notes, “Bob has achieved a level of service and dedication to ASU that few will ever equal.”

Pettit has published over 800 scientific papers and written multiple books and book chapters. His papers have been cited over 30,000 times. Pettit’s h-index, a measure of his publications’ impact, is 89. To put this in perspective, a scientist with an index of 20 would be considered successful, while an outstanding scientist would have an index of 40. Not surprisingly, Pettit has achieved numerous awards and recognition.

Pettit received the Chemical Pioneer Award from the American Institute of Chemists, the State of Arizona Governor’s Excellence Award, the Research Achievement Award by the American Society of Pharmacognosy, and the Ernest Guenther Award in the Chemistry of Natural Products, among others.

Pettit has been recognized by colleagues and organizations around the world for his outstanding contributions and career. He has been honored by the International Cancer Advocacy Network, the American Society of Pharmacognosy, and Washington State University, his alma mater. A special edition of the Journal of Natural Products is dedicated to Pettit, and the French journal Médicine Sciences paid tribute to him. Pettit’s achievements earned him the designation of Outstanding Investigator by the United States National Institutes of Health National Cancer Institute (NCI).

Gordon Cragg, former NCI chief of the Natural Products Branch, said, “In my opinion, Bob can truly be regarded as one of the great pioneers and giants in the field of natural products drug discovery and development. His career has been devoted to the discovery and development of novel and more effective anti-cancer agents from natural sources, and those of us who have collaborated with him know him as an outstanding and resourceful scientist totally committed to improving the treatment and quality of life of cancer patients worldwide. My wife and I wish Bob a happy and well-earned retirement.”

A. Douglas Kinghorn, professor and Jack L. Beal Chair in the Division of Medicinal Chemistry and Parmacognosy at The Ohio State University College of Pharmacy, said, “For more than a decade, Dr. Bob Pettit has very kindly served on the external advisory committee of our funded program project on the discovery of anti-cancer drugs of natural origin. It has been a privilege to have interacted with him in this manner, since he is presently the leader in the United States in this field. Several of the compounds from nature isolated by his team members have reached human clinical trials and one has been modified in structure to produce a new anti-cancer drug. He is also a prolific scientific author, and, as the former senior editor of the Journal of Natural Products, it has always been a pleasure to process the many papers he published in our journal. Now that Bob Pettit is retiring, he will be very greatly missed by the members of our natural products and medicinal chemistry scientific communities. Best wishes for a happy and healthy retirement, Bob!”

Michael Boyd, the president and co-founder of ADT Pharmaceuticals, said, “Professor Pettit is among the world's most prolific research scientists in the excruciatingly difficult and frustrating field of anti-cancer drug discovery. He is fiercely dedicated to the defeat of cancer, and his incredible patience, persistence and dogged determination have inspired many thousands of students and peers for more than six decades. He is a national treasure. For me he is a personal treasure; Bob Pettit is a dear and loyal friend, and the single most important mentor and role model in my professional career."

Throughout his career, Pettit truly inspired and impacted others, including numerous colleagues and students. At ASU he trained and mentored over 70 graduate students and 200 postdoctoral fellows and visiting scientists, many of whom have gone on to their own productive careers in drug design. Additionally, he has served on boards and foundations where he championed the fight against cancer. Although Pettit himself is retiring, his impact on anti-cancer research will press on.

WATCH: ASU School of Molecular Sciences video tribute to Pettit

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