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Pioneer of antiviral therapies is awarded the Parker Medal, school’s highest honor

Medicine@Yale, 2006 - July Aug


Anti-HIV/AIDS compound discovered by awardee has improved lives worldwide

The Peter Parker Medal, the School of Medicine’s premier award, is named for an intrepid alumnus and graduate of the Yale Divinity School who traveled to China in 1834 as a medical missionary. By founding the Ophthalmic Hospital at Canton, the Reverend Peter Parker, M.D., set the stage for the extraordinarily close and wide-ranging ties between Yale and China that endure to the present day.

The 2006 recipient of the Peter Parker Medal, William H. Prusoff, Ph.D., spent his working life at the lab bench instead of the bedside, but his contributions, like Parker’s, have had a lasting global impact.

In the 1950s, Prusoff, now professor emeritus and senior research scientist in the Department of Pharmacology, synthesized the first antiviral compound approved for human use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

But he is best known for research conducted during the 1980s with his late colleague Tai-Shun Lin, Ph.D., on d4T, a potent treatment for HIV/AIDS. Under the trade name Zerit, d4T forms part of the three-drug “cocktail” that has extended the lives of tens of thousands of people with HIV/ AIDS worldwide.

In a landmark decision in 2001, Bristol Myers Squibb, which developed and markets Zerit, agreed to distribute the drug at no profit to HIV/AIDS patients in the hard-hit countries of sub-Saharan Africa. Royalties to Yale from sales of Zerit in developed countries provided the lion’s share of funding for the construction of the Anlyan Center for Medical Research and Education, which houses state-of-the-art laboratories and classrooms at the School of Medicine.

Prusoff joined the medical school faculty in 1953. He received his undergraduate degree in chemistry from the University of Miami, his doctorate from Columbia University and an honorary doctorate from the University of Cagliari in Italy in 1989.

In 2000 the School of Medicine established the William H. Prusoff Professorship in Pharmacology in Prusoff ’s honor, a post now held by the Chair of the Department of Pharmacology, Joseph Schlessinger, Ph.D.

Prusoff “exemplifies the Yale researcher,” said Dean and Ensign Professor Robert J. Alpern, M.D., at an April ceremony and celebration at New Haven’s Union League Café marking the award of the Parker Medal. “I am proud and thankful for Dr. Prusoff’s ambassadorship on behalf of this institution.”