June 21, 2018
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Dr. Irving S. Johnson

Dr. Irving S. Johnson of Sanibel, Florida passed away July 10, 2014. He was born to the late Walter G. and Frances (Tuttle) Johnson in Grand Junction, Colorado. He shared 65 beautiful years of marriage with his wife Alwyn N. (Ginther) Johnson. He also is survived by his four children Rebecca L. Brown (David), Bryan G. Johnson (Jan), Kirsten S. Johnson (Leland Sinclair), and Kevin B. Johnson (Dana Krempels) and eight grandchildren, Aaron and Rachel Brown, Alex and Laura Johnson, David and John Olson and Amy and Mary Sinclair.

Dr. Johnson was a veteran U.S. Navy officer of WWII serving on aircraft carriers in the South Pacific. He attended Cornell, Harvard and Duke Universities and obtained his Ph.D. in developmental biology from the University of Kansas. Dr. Johnson joined Eli Lilly & Company in 1953. He was a leading scientist in the pharmaceutical industry for 35 years and concluded his career as Vice President of Research for Eli Lilly & Company in 1988. Dr. Johnson is well known for his research using recombinant DNA, which led to the commercial production of human insulin, the first approved health care product made using that technology. He pioneered the application of similar recombinant DNA strategies as a tool in identifying new targets for drug development. He collaborated with Jonas Salk on several projects, including production of the first batch of polio vaccine for clinical trials. He also discovered a new class of cancer-fighting drugs still widely used for treating childhood leukemia. Following his retirement from Eli Lilly & Company, Dr. Johnson worked as an independent biomedical research consultant for twenty years and was a consultant for or a board member of numerous biotechnology companies. He published over 90 scientific articles, contributed to over thirty books and was granted three patents. He received numerous awards, including Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, First Annual Congressional Award in Science and Technology for his leadership in biomedical research and the Fifth Cain Memorial Award of the American Association for Cancer Research for outstanding pre-clinical research in cancer therapy. Other honors include appointment to the National Science Foundation’s delegation to review the biological effects of the atomic bombs used on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, consultant to the National Cancer Institute and appointment to the Recombinant Advisory Committee of the National Institutes of Health by the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Dr. Johnson endowed the Irving S. Johnson Distinguished Professorship in Molecular Biology at the University of Kansas in the hope that support given postdoctoral and graduate students would help further biomedical research. He also established with his wife the philanthropic Irving S. Johnson and Alwyn N. Johnson Family Foundation.

Memorial contributions may be made to the American Association for Cancer Research.

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