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Edwin F. Ullman, PhD

1997 Outstanding Contributions in a Selected Area of Research

Edwin F. Ullman, PhD, will receive the 25th annual award, sponsored by Roche Diagnostic Systems. Dr. Ullman received his undergraduate education at Reed College in 1952 and his PhD at Harvard University in 1956 in the field of Organic Chemistry. Thereafter he joined the Lederle Laboratories Division of American Cyanamid Co., where he first became interested in the chemistry of strained rings related to the hypoglycemic agent, hypoglycin. He transferred to the Central Research Division of American Cyanamid in 1960, where he led a group that carried out fundamental studies in strained ring chemistry and in organic photochemistry related to the phenomenon of photochromism. In 1966 Syntex Corp. and Varian Associates organized a new company, Synvar Research Institute, which was given the charter of developing new technology in the rather diverse fields of high-temperature superconductivity, stable free radicals, and organic photochemistry. Dr. Ullman helped organize the newly formed Synvar as its Scientific Director and assembled a small group of postdoctoral fellows and a few permanent staff members. Although substantial scientific success was achieved over the next few years in each of these fields, it was his studies on stable free radicals that led to commercial success. By 1971 Ullman’s group had devised a technique called spin immunoassay that was based on ESR detection of stable nitroxide radicals. This process was the basis for the first commercial homogeneous immunoassay system, launched under the tradename FRAT®,which was used for urinary detection of drugs of abuse, primarily for US armed forces stationed in Vietnam at the time.

As FRAT came into wider use, it became clear that spin immunoassay could not provide the sensitivity required for most clinical laboratory tests. Drawing on his earlier interest in the possibility of photomodulation of a chromogenic enzyme as a replacement for silver halide on photographic film, Dr. Ullman suggested that a homogeneous immunoassay might be constructed based on immunochemical modulation of enzyme activity. The concept was demonstrated in only about a month, and by 1973 Emit®homogeneous enzyme inhibition immunoassays for drugs of abuse were launched by Syva Co., the successor of Synvar Research Institute. Ullman and his group subsequently developed a series of novel homogeneous immunoassay methods including fluorescence protection immunoassay, fluorescence energy transfer immunoassay (FETI), vesicle fusion inhibition immunoassay, enzyme channeling immunoassay, enzyme enhancement immunoassay, and most recently, LOCI™ (luminescent oxygen channeling assay). Of these, FETI was subsequently commercialized and LOCI is presently under active commercial development by Behring Diagnostics Inc.

In addition to his research in homogeneous methods, Ullman has developed both qualitative and quantitative noninstrumented test methods for drugs, microorganisms, and antibodies; a blood typing and antibody screening system based on fluorescent-bead binding to erythocytes; single primer amplification of DNA based on a novel template switching-process during primer extension; PCR-coupled branch migration inhibition for detection of any mutation within a defined strand of DNA; and many other less-general methods for use in clinical testing.

All of Dr. Ullman’s research in clinical chemistry was carried out during his tenure as Scientific Director of Synvar and his subsequent positions as Vice President and Director of Research for Syva Co., starting in 1970, and for Behring Diagnostics following Behring’s purchase of the former Syva Co. in 1995. He has been recognized by awards from the Northern California and New York Metropolitan Sections of the AACC, the Mallinckrodt Award given by the Clinical Ligand Assay Society, the MSD Health Group Award from the Canadian Clinical Chemistry Society, and the Inventor-of-the-Year Award from the Peninsula Patent Law Association. He has been a member of several professional journal advisory boards and is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Although he formally retired from Behring Diagnostics in May 1997, he is continuing to serve as a scientific consultant for Behring as well as for a number of other companies. Dr. Ullman has published over 100 scientific papers and is the inventor of over 150 issued US patents.
(FRAT and Emit are registered trademarks of Behring Diagnostics GmbH.)