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John Herr, Scientist and Entrepreneur, Dies At Age 68

Wednesday, September 21, 2016  
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John C. Herr, 68, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Research in Contraceptive and Reproductive Health, died unexpectedly on September 17, 2016.

A professor of cell biology, urology and biomedical engineering, Herr, who came to UVA’s School of Medicine in 1981, championed basic science and translational goals, sharing that dedication with colleagues and students. He focused his research on reproductive biology and made several breakthroughs toward developing a reversible contraceptive option for men and contraceptive vaccines for women. Most recently, he was working on promising research that is shedding light on the fundamental nature of a wide variety of cancers and possible new paths of treatment.

“We are all deeply saddened by the sudden loss of our friend and colleague,” said Dr. David S. Wilkes, dean of the School of Medicine. “John Herr was a scientist and entrepreneur who had a commitment to transforming fundamental scientific research to better the human condition. His creative and energetic curiosity will be missed.”

An active inventor, Herr and his laboratory named more than 35 genes in the human genome and applied for patents on their use as diagnostic or therapeutic targets. In addition to basic science, his laboratory conducts translational research with the intent of moving discoveries into products, and he created several companies for that purpose.Internationally recognized for the discovery of a unique sperm protein called SP-10, Herr’s findings led to development of the first FDA-approved home-diagnostic tests for male fertility, including SpermCheck, sold in pharmacies and stores around the world.

He started the company Ovastasis in 2014 to develop a new form of women’s birth control, free of unpleasant side-effects, that would interact only with a woman’s reproductive cells to arrest their development by using egg-specific drug targets.Like Ovastasis, Neoantigenics, his first cancer research company, is focused on creating a targeted drug that will affect only those cells identified by the correct cell surface biomarkers.

Many who knew Herr for nearly 30 years echoed the same themes about his enthusiasm and drive for innovation, his bold vision and collaborative nature.

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