CORAL GABLES, Fla. (December 3, 2015) — The Faculty Senate has unanimously voted to honor School of Law Professor Richard L. Williamson with the James W. McLamore Outstanding Service Award and, for the first time, to bestow a Special Faculty Senate Award posthumously, honoring the life and work of Eckhard Podack, a distinguished cancer researcher and educator at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center who passed away October 8.
The awards, which will be presented at the 2016 Faculty Senate Awards Ceremony next spring, are among the University’s highest honors. Williamson, who is known for his gift for mentoring and his devotion to pro bono and community service, is being recognized for going above and beyond the call of duty to the University and community, a hallmark of his life.
Podack, who chaired the Miller School’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology for 21 years, will be honored with the Special Faculty Senate Award for his dedication to teaching and the huge impact his discoveries have had on improving treatment for cancer patients. Faculty Senate Chair Tomas Salerno, professor of surgery and chief of the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery, announced the award, which the Senate has bestowed only 12 times and never before posthumously, at Podack’s November 21 memorial service. Nearly 300 colleagues, friends, family, and admirers from around the world attended the service in the Shalala Student Center.
Richard L. Williamson
For more than 20 years, Williamson, the former associate dean of the School of Law, interim chair of the Department of International Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences, and chair of the Faculty Senate from 2009-2014, has been faculty advisor to the School of Law’s Honor Council.
A former foreign service officer and division chief of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, he has used his extensive international experience to establish international liaisons between Miami Law and numerous international universities. Intended to be short-term, the initial intensive exchange seminar he organized between Leipzig University and UM is in its 14th year, and has led to the establishment of 17 semester-long exchange programs on four continents.
A treasured mentor to students here and abroad, Williamson also has employed his legal skills to advance the environment and international understanding. He drafted the founding documents and policy statements for UM’s Jayne and Leonard Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy, and has hosted foreign high school students through Rotary International, for which he is a frequent speaker. The Rotary Club has recognized his selfless contributions by naming him a Paul Harris Fellow, an honor usually reserved for members.
As a member of the Opa-locka Brownfields Advisory Committee and chair of its Legal Sub-Committee, Williamson drafted policy documents and recommendations to help the community more efficiently utilize abandoned and contaminated property holdings. Through his efforts, Opa-locka was selected as one of the EPA’s showcase cities and received additional funding for assessing the use of brownfields to be used for green space purposes.
Podack, a giant in the field of cancer research who was widely respected around the world for his pioneering laboratory studies, made a series of discoveries that ultimately will extend or save the lives of many others.
Perhaps the most significant were the discoveries of Perforin-1 and, more recently, Perforin-2 — antibacterial proteins that help the body’s immune system defend against infectious disease. One of Podack’s last published studies, “Perforin-2 is essential for intracellular defense of parenchymal cells and phagocytes against pathogenic bacteria,” appeared online September 24 in the eLife Sciences Journal. It is one of more than 305 professional articles, books, and monographs Podack wrote or contributed to over his career.
A native of Germany and a fellow in the Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy who became interested in cancer research at an early age, Podack joined the Miller School in 1987 and became department chair in 1994. In the early 1990s, he created a monoclonal antibody to seek out and attach to CD-30, a receptor on lymphoma cells. He later sold the technology to Seattle Genetics, which developed SGN-35, a therapy designed to target only cancer cells, leaving healthy tissue alone.
He also developed a novel lung cancer vaccine using gp-96, a heat shock protein, to treat non-small cell lung cancer, which accounts for most lung cancers, as well as tumor necrosis factor receptor (TNFR) 25 agonists and antagonists that allow the immune system to attack cancer cells more effectively.
In order to translate his discoveries into clinical treatments, Podack launched Heat Biologics in 2008 to develop “ImPACT” (Immune Pan-Antigen Cytotoxic Therapy), a proprietary cell-based immunotherapy for use in the treatment of a wide range of cancers. Heat Biologics completed a successful initial public offering in 2013 and continues to develop its leading-edge therapy.
All members of the University community are invited to attend the Faculty Senate Awards ceremony, which also will include the awarding of the Distinguished Faculty Scholar Award and the Outstanding Teaching Award on April 11, 2016, at 5 p.m. in Storer Auditorium at the School of Business Administration.