Alfred Burger Award In Medicinal Chemistry | February 18, 2008 Issue - Vol. 86 Issue 7 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 86 Issue 7 | p. 52 | Awards
Issue Date: February 18, 2008

Alfred Burger Award In Medicinal Chemistry

Recipients are honored for contributions of major significance to chemistry
Department: ACS News
Credit: Wyeth MultiMedia Services
Credit: Wyeth MultiMedia Services

Sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline

Since receiving a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the University of Pennsylvania in 1979 and completing an NIH postdoctoral fellowship at Temple University in 1981, Magid Abou-Gharbia has worked for a single employer—Wyeth Research. Over the past 26 years, he rose from research chemist to senior vice president and head of the chemical and screening sciences department. In his current position, Abou-Gharbia oversees Wyeth's discovery chemistry and screening research efforts at four research centers in the northeastern U.S. The 500 scientists who report to him are responsible for annually delivering 10 new chemical entities (NCEs) in five therapeutic areas for subsequent development.

"A dedicated and resourceful research scientist and manager, Dr. Abou-Gharbia's accomplishments are legion," observes one Wyeth colleague. "Regarded as a global expert in the diseases of the central nervous system, he also has made sustained, critical contributions in the areas of cardiovascular and immunoinflammatory disease. His work is characterized by depth of understanding, rigor, innovation, conviction, and a striving toward achievement."

Abou-Gharbia says of the Alfred Burger Award that he is "honored to be in the company of the distinguished previous recipients. I consider this as much a recognition of my team at Wyeth as of myself. No one can accomplish anything alone in drug discovery."

Madeleine M. Joullié, who was Abou-Gharbia's thesis adviser at Penn, says "The scientific findings of Dr. Abou-Gharbia's research group have influenced the research of many scientists in academia and industrial institutions in several areas."

Joullié points to advances in the areas of CNS disorders, antihistamines, cardiovascular diseases, and rapamycin and other immunosuppressants. Under Abou-Gharbia's leadership, Wyeth medicinal chemistry efforts contributed to the discovery of four marketed drugs and many other compounds currently under clinical evaluation. These include the first-in-class antidepressant Effexor, a serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor and the number one prescription antidepressant in the world with yearly sales of approximately $3.6 billion; the anticancer agent Mylotarg; the new anticancer drug Torisel; and the broad-spectrum antibiotic, Tygacil.

Abou-Gharbia says that the achievements of which he is most proud are his work on serotonin, which led to the development of Effexor, and his work on the immunosuppressant rapamycin.

Rapamycin, currently marketed by Wyeth as Rapamune to combat transplantation rejection, is one of the fastest growing immunosuppressants on the market. Abou-Gharbia's research team, in collaboration with academic researchers, identified the effector protein of rapamycin, mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin). Identifying the mTOR pathway opened the door for innovative research to explore and expand the therapeutic potential of the rapamycin molecule.

The medicinal chemistry group at Wyeth launched a major research program to expand the therapeutic utility of this natural product. They focused on the synthesis of rapamycin analogs and synthesized more than 700 novel compounds, many of which have demonstrated superior efficacy and properties over rapamycin itself. This research has generated compound leads for a number of neurodegenerative disease states.

Abou-Gharbia received a B.Sc. in chemistry and pharmaceutical sciences in 1971 and an M.Sc. in chemistry in 1974 from Cairo University. He has been an adjunct professor in organic chemistry at Cairo University (1998-2002) and a visiting professor at Princeton University (1997-1998). He has received numerous awards and honors, including the Procter Medal in 2003, the ACS Earle B. Barnes Award for Leadership in Chemistry Research Management in 2001, and the ACS Philadelphia Section Award in 1997.

He will present the award address before the Division of Medicinal Chemistry.

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