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Perkin Medal Goes To Richard Silverman

Northwestern chemist honored for contributions to medicinal chemistry

by Mitch Jacoby
July 13, 2009 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 87, Issue 28

Credit: Mitch Jacoby/C&EN
Silverman describes the structure of pregabalin.
Credit: Mitch Jacoby/C&EN
Silverman describes the structure of pregabalin.

In recognition of his outstanding work in applied chemistry, the Society of Chemical Industry 2009 Perkin Medal has been awarded to Richard B. (Rick) Silverman, the John Evans Professor of Chemistry at Northwestern University. The Perkin Medal, which was first awarded just over one century ago, is recognized as one of the chemical industry's most prestigious awards.

Silverman's research primarily focuses on medicinal chemistry: studying the molecular basis of drug action, reaction mechanisms of enzymes, and design and synthesis of pharmaceutical agents. He has worked to deepen understanding of several diseases, including epilepsy, cancer, Parkinson's, and cerebral palsy.

Among Silverman's many scientific accomplishments, designing pregabalin and discovering the medicinal properties of that compound stand out for catapulting him and Northwestern to pharmaceutical fame and fortune. Pregabalin, a γ-aminobutyric acid analog, is the active substance in Lyrica, a pain and epilepsy medication commercialized by drug giant Pfizer.

In 2007, after Northwestern collected more than $70 million in royalties for the drug, the university sold a portion of its royalty rights for an additional $700 million (C&EN, March 10, 2008, page 56). Around the same time, Silverman and his family donated a portion of their earnings from the drug to fund construction of a new Northwestern science building. The facility, which is scheduled to open this fall, will house chemistry, biology, and engineering research groups devoted to biomedical science.

Silverman has published more than 250 papers in organic chemistry, medicinal chemistry, and enzymology. He is also the author of three books, including "The Organic Chemistry of Drug Design and Drug Action," and holds 40 patents.

The Perkin Medal is named for Sir William Henry Perkin (1838–1907), who was honored by SCI in 1906 for developing the first synthetic dye, Perkin mauve. This year's medal will be presented at SCI's Perkin Medal banquet in Philadelphia in September.



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