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John Teerlink, MD, Director of the Heart Failure Program and Clinical Echocardiography Laboratory at SFVAMC, had what he terms “quite a week” in the August 20, 2011 issue of the leading British medical journal The Lancet. In addition to publishing the results of Dr. Teerlink’s Phase I and Phase II trials of a possible breakthrough medication for heart failure, plus a review of medical therapies for heart failure which he co-wrote, the journal singled him out in a profile as a “Renaissance man and leader in heart failure research.”

Dr. Teerlink, a UCSF Professor of Clinical Medicine, is widely considered a world leader in the field of acute heart failure, and has led and designed a number of clinical trials for potential heart failure medications. He explains that the Phase I trial results published in The Lancet are significant because the drug, omecamtiv mecarbil, works in a different way from existing heart failure therapies- rather than making the heart beat more often, it makes heart muscles contract for longer, thereby increasing the volume of blood pumped with each stroke, “theoretically without any of the disadvantages of currently available therapies.” That trial led directly to a successful multicenter, international Phase II trial of 45 patients the results of which, also co-authored by Dr. Teerlink, appeared in the same issue. The outcomes of the two trials were reported in news stories worldwide.

The author of The Lancet profile highlights Dr. Teerlink’s non-medical background and interests, noting that “until a recent conversation with John Teerlink, this writer had never spoken to anyone” who had read all of James Joyce’s “notoriously impenetrable” novel Finnegans Wake. (Dr. Teerlink terms this accomplishment “a tribute to my Dutch stubbornness.”) As an undergraduate at Swarthmore College, Dr. Teerlink balanced an interest in medicine with a love of philosophy and religion, graduating with a major in comparative religion and a minor in cell biology before going on to obtain his MD from Harvard Medical School. His subsequent career as a heart failure researcher has garnered Dr. Teerlink the admiration of colleagues from around the world, who characterize him in The Lancet as “elite,” “an exceptional scientist,” and, as UCSF cardiologist Nelson Schiller, MD, puts it, a “uniquely gifted individual.”

Exciting as it was, Dr. Teerlink’s turn in the Lancet spotlight has not distracted him from his primary goal: the development of new therapies for heart failure. “I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to work with phenomenally gifted mentors and colleagues who truly represent the best of the Renaissance ideal, all of us striving to find therapies that will help our patients feel better and live longer,” he says. “While the early study results with omecamtiv mecarbil are very encouraging, it will take continued international collaboration and the kind participation of our study subjects to demonstrate whether this new therapy will redefine the treatment of heart failure.”

In March, 2011, NCIRE supported the first annual Challenge Failure race in Lodi, California. The event was founded by Robin Boriak, widow of Veteran Marc Boriak, a patient of Dr. Teerlink’s who died after suffering from chronic heart failure for many years. The race raised over $20,000 for heart failure research at SFVAMC.

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March 16, 2017