Owen A. O'Connor, MD, PhD, deputy director of clinical research and cancer treatment at The Cancer Institute (CI), chief of the division of hematologic malignancies and medical oncology in the Department of Medicine, and professor of medicine and pharmacology, was recently named one of the "Irish Life Science 50." The award was provided by the Enterprise Ireland, in conjunction with the Cork Cancer Research Center, IDA Ireland and the Irish Voice newspaper for Dr. O'Connor's contribution to medicine as an Irish-American. The Irish Life Science 50 aims to recognize and reward the diverse accomplishments and advancements of Irish-Americans in the industry of life sciences. Mary McAleese, the president of Ireland, attended the ceremony in honor of the awardees.
"We are proud to have Dr. O'Connor at our Medical Center and for receiving this honor in recognition of his outstanding achievements as a physician researcher and as an Irish-American," said Robert I. Grossman, MD, the Saul J. Farber Dean and CEO at NYU Langone Medical Center. "Dr. O'Connor's significant work in the discovery of new therapies and treatment for non-Hodgkin's and Hodgkin's lymphoma is to be commended. He and his team play a critical role towards our institutional commitment to gain a better understanding of the lymphomas in an effort to advance the care of patients with these diseases."
Dr. O'Connor began his career as an environmental chemist, studying the relationship between environmental contaminants such as PCBs and dioxins and cancer. While pursuing his PhD in biochemical toxicology and chemical carcinogenesis in 1990 at NYU School of Medicine, he realized that many of the chemicals used to treat cancer can also cause it by giving rise to mutations in DNA, turning on cancer causing oncogenes. The recognition that the biochemical mechanisms by which environmental carcinogens and anticancer drugs appeared to affect the cell were eerily similar, led him on a search for chemicals that could inhibit the unique growth and survival pathways in tumor cells, while not affecting normal cells. Believing that he could help people directly as a physician researcher, he pursued his medical school education at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) with the goal of becoming a physician-scientist focused on creating new drugs for cancer.
In his current position at NYU Langone Medical Center, Dr. O'Connor not only treats patients with different forms of lymphoma, but is also a researcher and directs over six major, ongoing laboratory studies evaluating the biological effects of experimental treatments for lymphoma and myeloma. His efforts have led to numerous patents on novel small molecules, and have produced one of the largest portfolios of new drugs for the treatment of lymphoma in the world. Over the past decade, his work has contributed to the FDA approval of distinct drugs for the treatment of relapsed and refractory mantle cell lymphoma, cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, and relapsed or refractory peripheral T-cell lymphoma. In fact pralatrexate, a drug he co-invented and developed with Frank Sirotnak, PhD, at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, became the first drug ever approved by the US FDA for the treatment of patients with relapsed or refractory peripheral T-cell lymphoma.
In addition to receiving his PhD at NYU School of Medicine, he received his BS in biology, magna cum laude, from Manhattan College in 1982, and his medical degree from the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in 1994. He then went on to complete a medical internship and residency at The New York Hospital Cornell University Medical Center. Following his medical residency, he completed a fellowship in medical oncology at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, where he was also chief fellow, and a fellowship in clinical pharmacology at New York Hospital-Cornell University Medical School. Prior to arriving at NYU Langone, he was the director of the Lymphoid Development and Malignancy Program at Columbia University, and chief of the lymphoma programs at The New York-Presbyterian Hospital at Columbia University Medical Center.
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