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Desperate for a Cure

Barbara Bensoussan

While governments and pharmaceutical companies have invested billions in order to find a cure for cancer, the dreaded killer still strikes with a vengeance. Yet Dr. Robert Shorr, who has patented close to 200 chemical inventions, isn’t giving up, having invested the last decade in a search for that elusive cure. If clinical trials are an indication, cancer sufferers may soon see a breakthough — and more than a ray of hope — in their frantic race against the deadly invaders

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

dr shoreIt’s so preternaturally quiet here, in this vast, landscaped industrial park inCranbury,New Jersey, that you can almost hear the computers humming inside the handsome brick and plate glass buildings. We’re in an area you might call the Silicon Valley of New Jersey: It’s not far fromPrincetonUniversity, and close to the home of the father of the electronic era, Thomas Edison.

But we’re not here for the latest innovations in engineering or physics; it’s a different kind of breakthrough that has brought us here. Within one of these buildings stands the headquarters of Cornerstone Pharmaceuticals, a pharmaceutical company engaged in clinical trials for a breakthrough new drug that might — just might — offer new hope for cancer patients.

The company’s CEO and one of its founders, Dr. Robert Shorr, welcomes us into his simple but roomy office, part of an extensive office suite. He’s a big man, with an even bigger CV: research director at top pharmaceutical companies, entrepreneur, author of some 250 technical articles, abstracts, book chapters and conference proceedings, and originator of close to 200 inventions patented or pending patents worldwide. His work has garnered him such prestigious awards as the NJ Cancer Society Gallo Research Award and the R & D Magazine Innovation Award.

But despite the credentials, Rob Shorr is no stereotypical science geek: He’s a Torah scholar who earned a smichah from Pirchei Shoshanim, converted his basement into a beis medrash, and is a descendant of the 18th-century Tevuas Shor. His office is decorated by one solitary but striking work of art: a canvas depicting the Mishkan, its flowing, golden keruvim contrasting against a deep indigo background. It was painted by his daughter, an artist living inSilver Spring,Maryland.

Looking at him today, it’s hard to believe there was a time, many years ago, when this distinguished researcher rode a motorcycle with friends, tended bar, and expressed himself through martial arts, weight lifting, and playing electric guitar in a rock and roll band. (“I liked the mathematics, the dance aspect of martial arts,” he comments. “I still have a guitar, but these days I play folk music, not rock.”) But you might have predicted the colorful past from his colorful family. His father, Morton Shorr, served in the Navy as a chief petty officer and MP. The elder Shorr was also a boxer, a horseman, and a gun collector who taught all his children to use weapons through the National Rifle Association. But he was possessed of brains as well as brawn. “My father was a famous rocket scientist,” Dr. Shorr recounts. “He designed propulsion systems.” He was also the author of a textbook entitled Solid Rocket Technology.

Various jobs took the senior Shorr to locations around the world; some of Rob Shorr’s childhood was spent inBrazil, where his mother had been born (as a result, he grew up speaking not only English and Yiddish, but Portuguese as well). “We always ended up in places where there were no Jews, or almost no Jews,” Dr. Shorr says, with a clear tinge of regret. His father compensated for the paucity of Jewish resources by sharing the riches of his extensive secular knowledge with his three children; he provided his sons with toy microscopes and child-size telescopes, sparking their interest in science from an early age.

“We learned a lot with my father,” Dr.Shorr says. “He taught us math, physics, and other sciences. He used to set up and test model rockets in the basement of our house.… He was careful, though. He’d figure out how to measure the forces involved and scale things down so they wouldn’t do any damage to the house when he set them off.”

He grins. “It was just very loud.”


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