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Arthur C. Cope Award: Arun K. Ghosh

Recipients are honored for contributions of major significance to chemistry

by Bethany Halford
February 22, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 8

Credit: Steve Scherer/Purdue U
Credit: Steve Scherer/Purdue U

It was, quite literally, a spark that got Arun K. Ghosh interested in chemistry. As a high school student, when he watched sodium metal ignite in water and then turn the phenolphthalein-laced liquid pink, Ghosh instantly became fascinated with the wonders of the chemical world.

These days, Ghosh, who holds the title of Ian P. Rothwell Distinguished Professor at Purdue University, has chosen to focus on the interface between organic chemistry and medicine, an area where his work is now being honored with a Cope Scholar Award “for outstanding contributions to organic chemistry and medicine regarding design and synthesis of novel enzyme inhibitors, synthesis of bioactive natural products, and new synthetic methodologies.”

Ghosh earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Calcutta, in India, followed by a master’s degree from the Indian Institute of Technology, in Kanpur. He moved to the U.S. to complete his studies, doing his doctoral work with Alan P. Kozikowski at the University of Pittsburgh and postdoctoral work at Harvard University with Elias J. Corey.

He spent the next six years at Merck & Co. working as a research fellow. In 1994, Ghosh joined the faculty at the University of Illinois, Chicago, as an assistant professor. He stayed there until 2005, when he moved to Purdue.

“The totality of Arun’s scientific contribution is nothing short of astounding,” remarks Philip L. Fuchs, Ghosh’s colleague at Purdue. “His extensive research work, described in over 189 original research publications, is of the highest quality with far-reaching impact in organic and bioorganic chemistry and human medicine.”

Although Ghosh has distinguished himself in many fields—medicinal chemistry, natural product synthesis, and synthetic methodology—he says he is proudest of his work in drug design. In particular, he points to darunavir, a compound from his lab that was recently approved by the Food & Drug Administration as the first treatment for drug-resistant HIV. The drug was designed to bind with the protein backbone of the target, a concept that originated in Ghosh’s lab. “We are seeing this is a very important concept. This ‘backbone binding’ concept is not only important in HIV, it may be important in other viral diseases,” Ghosh says.

“Equally elegant and vitally important is Arun’s structure-based design of β-secretase inhibitors for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease,” notes Ei-ichi Negishi, another colleague at Purdue. One compound developed from this research effort is currently in Phase I clinical trials. “This is an extraordinary development with significant promise for a disease-modifying treatment for Alzheimer’s disease,” Fuchs adds.

“One of the things I’m most proud of is that we’ve shown that drug discovery can be done in an academic laboratory,” Ghosh says. “We don’t have the same resources as a pharmaceutical company. We have to be very creative, very innovative.”

If there is a secret to his success, Ghosh says, it is this: “I tremendously enjoy what I do. I’m fascinated seeing how organic synthesis can help in medicine and alleviate human suffering.”



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