Roy Hertz, 93, the National Institutes of Health researcher who broke scientific ground by developing the first drug cure for a human cancer tumor and whose work helped lead to the creation of birth control pills, died Oct. 28 of congestive heart failure at his home in Hollywood, Md.
The drug cure and Dr. Hertz's other explorations in the use of hormones and antihormones in the treatment of cancer earned him some of medicine's highest honors, including the 1972 Albert Lasker Award for Clinical Research. He was also nominated for a Nobel Prize.
In 1956, as chief of endocrine cancer research at the National Cancer Institute, Dr. Hertz, along with researcher Min Chiu Li, reported a cure for choriocarcinoma, a cancer of the placenta. It is rare among women in the United States but more common in Asia, and it can occur in early pregnancy and be fatal within six months. Dr. Hertz and Li found that it could be wiped out by a folic acid antagonist, the newly discovered anti-metabolic drug methotrexate.
That cure for choriocarcinoma proved to be the most successful example of single-agent chemotherapy for metastatic disease. As the first chemotherapy that resulted in a cancer cure, not just in remission, it had profound implications for the treatment of other forms of the disease.
"He was one of the giants of world medicine," said Alan Rabson, deputy director of the National Cancer Institute. Before Dr. Hertz's breakthrough, "the only cancers that had been cured with drugs were leukemias and lymphomas, and there was a question whether a solid tumor could be responsive to drugs. . . . His legacy is all the tumors that are responding to chemotherapy."
Rabson also pointed to Dr. Hertz's findings in endocrinology, which formed the groundwork for a number of leading studies in the field. Among them were his research into progesterone analogs, which provided the basis for development of the birth control pill.
Dr. Hertz advised the Food and Drug Administration about dosage levels when the pill was being approved, and he was among the first to warn of the pill's potential cancer-inducing hazards.
While doing research at George Washington University in the late 1970s, Dr. Hertz raised warnings -- unheeded at the time -- about breast cancer risks from estrogenic contaminants in animal fat. He pointed to the unregulated use of these contaminants as growth-promoting additives in cattle feed. In awarding Dr. Hertz its Fred Conrad Koch Award in 1996, the Endocrine Society described him as a pioneer in reproductive endocrinology and said that he, Gregory Pincus and Joseph Goldzieher had been the "fathers of the anovulatory pill."
Dr. Hertz also developed amphenone, which led to drugs used to treat the hormonal disorder Cushing's disease.
His major research occurred over 25 years at the NIH, where in 1961 he was chosen to give the annual NIH scientific lecture, one of the research center's highest honors.
After he left the federal research center in Bethesda, he was scientific director of the National Child Health Institute and then went on to Rockefeller University. There, he worked with the Population Council, continuing his endocrinology research as it related to birth control.
He later served on the faculty of New York Medical College and was scientist emeritus at NIH. His research toward the end of his career was at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and focused on the treatment of AIDS in pregnant women.
Dr. Hertz was a native of Cleveland. He received his medical degree and a doctorate in zoology from the University of Wisconsin. He also received a master's degree in public health from Johns Hopkins University, was a research fellow at Brown University and taught pharmacology at Howard University.
He began his career in the Public Health Service in Baltimore and was assigned in 1941 to NIH, where he did fundamental research in vitamin biochemistry. He was named head of the endocrinology section of the National Cancer Institute in 1946.
By the time a hospital facility was opened on the campus in 1953, Dr. Hertz was chief of the research medicine branch of the cancer institute. He admitted NIH's first research patient, who was treated for prostate cancer.
Dr. Hertz's publications included more than 150 papers and a book on choriocarcinoma. Among his honors were a Distinguished Service Award from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, of which he was a fellow; the Cancer Research Award of the International College of Surgeons; the Philippine Cancer Society Citation of Merit; and other awards from medical groups overseas.
He was given the Cancer Research Award of the Ewing Society; University of Wisconsin Medical Alumni Citation; Distinguished and Superior Service Awards of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare; the Anne Frankel Rosenthal Memorial Award for Cancer Research of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences; the medal of the Barren Foundation for contributions to reproductive endocrinology; and a Pioneers in Reproductive Biology award of the American Fertility Society.
He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences; International Committee for Contraceptive Research; an honorary fellow of the American Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; vice president of the Endocrine Society; and fellow of the American College of Physicians. He also sat on a number of journal editorial boards and health organization advisory boards.
Other memberships included Phi Beta Kappa, the Sigma Xi honorary society, the American Medical Association, the Federation for Clinical Investigation, the Washington Academy of Medicine and the American College of Physicians.
His first wife, Pearl Fennell Hertz, died in 1962. His second wife, Toby Oberdorfer Hertz, died Oct. 17.
Survivors include two children from his first marriage, Margaret Brodkin of San Francisco and Jeremy Hertz of Sebastopol, Calif.; two stepchildren, Michael Oberdorfer of Dickerson and Barbara Verdin of Chesapeake Beach, Md.; 13 grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.