For their exceptional work in discovering and developing a novel insect control product as well as drugs to treat HIV, non-small-cell lung cancer, and cystic fibrosis, scientists from four companies were named this year’s Heroes of Chemistry. They were recognized on Sept. 8 at a formal dinner during the American Chemical Society national meeting in Indianapolis.
Established in 1996, the ACS Heroes of Chemistry program honors scientists whose work in chemistry and chemical engineering has led to commercially successful products or technologies that benefit humankind.
Each year, an ACS panel selects the Heroes of Chemistry from a pool of chemical scientists nominated by their own companies to recognize their talent, creativity, and innovation. Their innovations are “a direct result of the vision and support of corporate management, who invest in science, understand its application, and advocate for it within their organizations,” ACS President Marinda Li Wu said at the event.
Among this year’s heroes are five scientists from DuPont who developed the first anthranilic diamide insect control product, Rynaxypyr. It is highly effective against damaging pests even at low use rates and has a low toxicity profile.
The DuPont scientists honored are Daniel Cordova, a senior research biochemist in the company’s Chemical Genomics Group; John H. Freudenberger, a research fellow in the Process Development Group; George P. Lahm, a DuPont fellow; Thomas P. Selby, a senior technical fellow; and Thomas M. Stevenson, a senior research fellow in chemical discovery.
Rynaxypyr “has proven to be an ideal replacement for less selective products in many important global markets,” Wu pointed out. The product is expected to help farmers around the world produce higher quality and more abundant fresh fruits and vegetables to meet consumer demands.
Also recognized as Heroes of Chemistry are nine scientists from Merck & Co. who, over nearly two decades, discovered and developed Isentress (raltegravir), the first integrase inhibitor approved for use in treating HIV-infected patients.
“While incurable, the HIV infection can be managed with a combination of antiretroviral drugs that target specific viral enzymes,” Wu said. “Isentress is unique because it lacks cross-resistance to other HIV drugs and provides a highly effective option for AIDS patients with multi-drug-resistant infections,” she added.
The Merck & Co. scientists are David Askin, who was formerly a senior scientific director in process research at Merck and is now an associate director and head of small-molecule process chemistry at Genentech; Guy Humphrey, a senior principal scientist in process chemistry; Ralph Laufer, formerly scientific director of the Merck Research Laboratories facility in Rome (IRBM) who is now senior vice president and head of discovery and product development at Teva Pharmaceutical Industries; Peter Maligres, a principal scientist in process research; Michael Rowley, formerly head of chemistry at IRBM who is now associate scientific vice president in Merck Discovery Chemistry; Vincenzo Summa, formerly director in the Medicinal Chemistry Department who is now head of chemistry at IRBM Science Park; Joseph Vacca, formerly vice president of chemistry who is now a senior vice president of early success sharing partnerships at WuXi AppTec; John Wai, a principal scientist in discovery chemistry; and Steven Young, a retired Merck vice president who is now a consultant and a scientific adviser and acting head of chemistry for BeiGene.
Isentress has the potential to help many people. In a 2012 report, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS estimated that roughly 34 million people were infected with HIV, Wu noted.
Five scientists from Pfizer were also named Heroes of Chemistry for developing Xalkori (crizotinib), a revolutionary pharmaceutical agent for treating non-small-cell lung cancer.
They are J. Jean Cui, an associate research fellow; Pei-Pei Kung, a senior principal scientist; Mason Pairish, a senior scientist; Hong Shen, a senior scientist; and Michelle Tran-Dubé, a principal scientist.
“The discovery of crizotinib is remarkable in that it is among the first agents in a new generation of cancer therapies that can be selected for the specific genetic defect that is driving tumor progression,” Wu said. It is the first new small-molecule drug for lung cancer approved by the Food & Drug Administration in more than six years, she added.
Noting that lung cancer is one of the most prevalent forms of cancer in both men and women, Wu said the National Cancer Institute is projecting more than 159,000 deaths as a result of small-cell and non-small-cell lung cancer in 2013.
A dozen scientists from Vertex Pharmaceuticals were honored as Heroes of Chemistry for discovering Kalydeco (ivacaftor), a new personalized medicine therapy for people with cystic fibrosis. The compound treats the underlying cause of the disease in patients with a specific genetic mutation.
Those Vertex heroes are Peter Grootenhuis, senior director for drug innovation; Sabine Hadida, a research fellow; Anna Hazlewood, formerly a research scientist in the Medicinal Chemistry group; Adam Looker, associate director of chemical development; Bobbianna Neubert-Langille, a senior scientist; Michael Ryan, a scientist in chemical development; David Willcox, a research fellow in chemical development; Zhifeng Ye, a senior technical operation manager; Brian Bear and Jinglan Zhou, who are both senior research scientists; and Vijayalaksmi Arumugam and Jason McCartney, who are both research scientists.
Kalydeco is the first medicine that targets the defective cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) protein, the underlying cause of cystic fibrosis. “In patients with the G551D mutation, Kalydeco helps the protein made by the CFTR gene function better and, as a result, improves lung function,” Wu said. It also benefits cystic fibrosis patients in other ways, such as helping them gain weight, she added.
An inherited chronic disease, cystic fibrosis attacks the lungs and digestive system of nearly 30,000 people in the U.S. alone, Wu pointed out. About 4% of those individuals are believed to have the G551D mutation, she added.
The advances made possible by the work of this year’s Heroes of Chemistry “have saved or improved lives around the world,” Wu said. “Their work directly supports the ACS vision: improving people’s lives through the transforming power of chemistry.” The Heroes of Chemistry “represent the very best of what the field of chemistry and its practitioners offer to the world,” she said.
Nominations for the 2014 Heroes of Chemistry program can be submitted between December 2013 and March 2014. Visit www.acs.org/heroes for further information.