Dr. Sidney Pestka
Known as the "Father of Interferon," Rutgers biochemistry department chairman Sidney Pestka, 80, of North Caldwell, N.J., passed on Thursday, Dec. 22, 2016. He was born in Drobin, Poland, moved near family to the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., at 21 months of age, and at age eight to Trenton, N.J., where he excelled at Trenton Central High School. He received a scholarship to Princeton University, from where he graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. in chemistry, and received his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine on full scholarship.
Afterwards, he worked at the National Institutes of Health in the laboratory of Marshall W. Nirenberg. Dr. Pestka's early work on the genetic code, protein synthesis and ribosome function led to Nirenberg's 1968 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
In 1969, Dr. Pestka left the NIH for the Roche Institute of Molecular Biology, where he focused on defining how antibiotics worked and proteins are synthesized and, later, interferons.
There Dr. Pestka was first to purify interferon alpha and beta; the first to clone mature interferons; and the first to develop a commercialized recombinant biotherapeutic-Roferon A. Dr. Pestka is known as the "Father of Interferon" for his seminal work on interferon, work that gave birth to a $6 billion dollar market directed at the therapy of hepatitis, multiple sclerosis, cancer, and other diseases that affect mankind. Dr. Pestka was Emeritus Professor of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, which he joined in 1986 and where he served as chairman for 25 years. In 1990, he founded PBL Assay Science -today a company of 35 employees -to develop cytokine assays and reagents and to expand interferon's clinical utility in cancer and viral diseases. Dr. Pestka is named inventor on 270 U.S. and foreign patents and has 665 publications and abstracts in his name. He has edited five books related to protein biosynthesis and interferons -several of which are classics and still cited today. He holds an honorary doctorate in science from Rider University and has played an important role at the International Cytokine and Interferon Society, where he served as secretary, vice president, and president. He was awarded the 2001 National Medal of Technology by President George W. Bush. He received the Seymour & Vivian Milstein Award for Excellence in Interferon and Cytokine Research; the Warren Alpert Foundation Prize from Harvard Medical School; the Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award; the Molecular Biology Medal from the National Institutes of Health for his role in deciphering the genetic code and the mechanism of protein synthesis; and the Edward J. Ill Outstanding Medical Research Scientist Award for Basic Biomedical Research. Dr. Pestka is survived by his wife of 56 years, Joan; his sister, Doris Goldman; his three children, Steven, Sharon, and Robert and their spouses Caroline, Ned, and Kazumi; and nine grandchildren, Hannah, Eleanor, Leela, Maya, Beatrice, Ashenafi, Robin, Sabina and Harry. Funeral Services were Friday at Temple Sholom of West Essex in Cedar Grove, N.J. The period of mourning will be observed at the Pestka residence in North Caldwell.
Published in Star-Ledger from Dec. 23 to Dec. 27, 2016- See more at: http://obits.nj.com/obituaries/starledger/obituary.aspx?n=sidney-pestka&pid=183189095&fhid=17084#sthash.YTBL4JmK.dpuf