Gerd Beyer, who passed away on 20 January at the age of 81, left his mark by developing the biomedical field of research, both at ISOLDE (CERN) forty years ago and at many other laboratories. He will be remembered as a tireless worker in the field of nuclear and applied nuclear physics combined with new radiochemical methods.
Gerd was born in Berlin in 1940 and went to secondary school in Aschersleben, in the foothills of the Harz in Saxony-Anhalt. After studying radiochemistry at the Technical University of Dresden, he went straight on to the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research (JINR) in Dubna, where he developed advanced production methods of rare short-lived radioisotopes for use in nuclear spectroscopy.
At the Central Institute for Nuclear Research in Rossendorf, he became proficient in the use of the U-120 cyclotron and the RFR research reactor to produce medical radioisotopes, and in the development of the associated radiopharmaceuticals.
He completed his Dr. habil. at TU Dresden, on the production of radionuclides by means of rapid radiochemical methods in combination with mass separation.
In 1971 he was invited to ISOLDE (CERN) to team up with Helge Ravn to prepare extremely pure samples of rare long-lived nuclei for studies of their electron capture decay, in view of their potential for neutrino mass determination.
Back in Rossendorf, he continued to develop radiopharmaceuticals and introduce them into the practice of nuclear medicine in the former East Germany and the Eastern Bloc countries.
In this context, he developed a number of new methods for labelling and synthesising radiopharmaceuticals, which attracted a great deal of attention on the international stage. In particular, the rather difficult problem of efficiently separating fission-produced Mo-99 from large samples of low enriched uranium brought him into many collaborations all over the world, with a view to transferring his know-how to other laboratories.
His appointment as head of Cyclotron Radiopharmaceuticals also allowed him to take the initiative to introduce a PET scanner programme in the GDR, based on the Rossendorf positron camera, using gas detectors derived from pioneering work at CERN.
During his visits to CERN, Gerd spotted the potential of the ISOLDE mass-separation technique as a tool in modern nuclear medical research that would allow the introduction and use of better-suited but hitherto unavailable nuclides.
In 1985, in close collaboration with ISOLDE, he began to prepare for the future use of large nuclear physics experiment facilities to produce such radionuclides. He reactivated ISOLDE’s contacts with the Department of Nuclear Medicine at the University Hospital of Geneva (HUG), starting up a collaboration on the use of exotic positron-emitting nuclides for PET imaging. This resulted in the development of new radiopharmaceuticals, exploiting radionuclides of the rare earths and actinides.
Shortly after the fall of the GDR, Gerd lost his job at his home base of Rossendorf and had to start a new career elsewhere. Via a CERN Scientific Associateship, Gerd became a guest professor in the Department of Medical Biochemistry and Nuclear Medicine at the HUG. Later, he became head of their Radiochemistry group, with responsibility for setting up and operating their new cyclotron. This allowed him to continue his work on developing new approaches to labelling monoclonal antibodies and peptides with exotic lanthanide positron emitters produced at ISOLDE, determining their in vivo stability and demonstrating their promising imaging properties. Gerd was also the first to demonstrate the promising therapeutic properties of the alpha emitter terbium-149.
When he retired from the HUG, keenly interested in the availability of these rare radioisotopes, he proposed, together with a group of colleagues, that CERN build a new radiochemical laboratory in connection with ISOLDE. Here, the large knowledge base on target and mass separator techniques for the production and handling of radionuclides could be used to make samples of these high-purity nuclides available for use in a broader biomedical research programme. Years later, Gerd’s initial idea was eventually realised with the creation of the new CERN-MEDICIS facility.
Gerd was a first-rate experimental scientist, highly skilled in the laboratory, and he stayed professionally active to the very end. As a guest professor, a member of numerous professional societies and a holder of many consultancy positions, he spared no effort in sharing and transferring his know-how, recently to the young generation of scientists at CERN-MEDICIS. During Gerd’s outstanding career, his work on the production of radiopharmaceuticals saved innumerable lives. His R&D towards new radiopharmaceuticals and, in particular, his pioneering work on terbium-149 for targeted alpha therapy, is opening up new perspectives for efficient cancer treatment. It is therefore particularly tragic that the development of efficient antiviral drugs came too late to support Gerd in his brave fight against COVID-19.
Our thoughts are with his wife, Ludmilla, and his two children, Thomas and Darja.
His friends and colleagues