For 50 years, the National Inventors Hall of Fame® has recognized individuals who have improved lives and shaped society. As we welcome a new class of Inductees in 2023, we are proud to share their stories with the next generation of innovators who could change the world. We invite you to read on to learn about Angela Hartley Brodie, the 2023 Inductee who developed aromatase inhibitors, which are among the leading therapies used to treat breast cancer.
Exploring Science With Empathy
Born in 1934 in Oldham, Lancashire, England, Brodie was a student of Ackworth School, a Quaker boarding school where educators led students to look for goodness in themselves and in others. She was just 5 years old when she started experiencing nightly bombing raids and witnessing the destruction of World War II. Her understanding of the human cost of violence, coupled with the kindness and empathy encouraged at Ackworth, might well have influenced Brodie’s drive to improve others’ lives through her eventual career.
At the time, women and girls were rarely encouraged to pursue careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields, but Brodie’s experience defied society’s expectations. Her father, chemist Herbert Hartley, supported her desire to further her education in science. She did just that, earning both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biochemistry from the University of Sheffield in 1956 and 1959, followed by her doctorate in chemical pathology from the University of Manchester in 1961.
Brodie moved from England to the United States in 1962. She joined the steroid biochemistry training program sponsored by the National Institutes of Health at the Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, where she met Harry Brodie, who would become her husband.
While Harry Brodie focused on the application of aromatase in contraception, Angela Brodie, who believed that “women deserved better” in the treatment of breast cancer, sought to find a link between estrogen biosynthesis and patients’ needs.
Advancing Breast Cancer Treatment
Through the 1970s, the Brodies both worked to optimize the first selective aromatase inhibitors. They developed methods of administering and testing synthetic compounds to block estrogen synthesis, and they found that one compound was especially effective: 4-hydroxyandrostenedione (4-OHA).
When Angela Brodie moved to the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore in 1979, she started making clinical-grade material in her own laboratory. Her first clinical trials of 4-OHA in 1981 showed promising results and encouraged her to continue her testing, which would eventually show that 4-OHA decreased blood estrogen levels.
In 1993, 4-OHA (now known as formestane) was brought to market with the purpose of treating advanced breast cancer in postmenopausal women. Formestane was the first new agent in a decade that was specifically designed to treat breast cancer. Since its initial development, three aromatase inhibitors have been approved by the FDA: anastrozole, letrozole and exemestane.
Many types of breast cancer are hormone dependent, meaning they require estrogen to reproduce and grow. Aromatase inhibitors starve hormone-dependent cancers of their estrogen fuel supply by interfering with aromatase, the enzyme that catalyzes the key step in the body’s synthesis of estrogens.
Brodie’s groundbreaking work in developing this new class of drugs has significantly advanced breast cancer treatment. Every year, it is estimated that 500,000 people across the world receive aromatase inhibitor therapy.
“Dr. Angela Brodie’s impact on the treatment of breast cancer has been unparalleled,” said E. Albert Reece, M.D., Ph.D., MBA and former dean of the University of Maryland School of Medicine. “It is because of her work that a disease that was once almost a certain death sentence, can now, for many, be successfully treated and managed.”
A fellow of the American Academy for Cancer Research and the first woman to receive the Charles F. Kettering Prize from the General Motors Cancer Research Foundation, Brodie held 13 U.S. patents.
Meet More Inspiring 2023 Inductees
To learn more about the visionary creators and innovators who make up our latest class of Hall of Famers, we invite you to visit our website.