Issue Date: February 11, 2013
E. B. Hershberg Award For Important Discoveries In Medicinally Active Substances
Sponsored by Merck Research Laboratories
Like many good chemists who were raised in the 1950s, Bruce E. Maryanoff, 66, was first drawn to his chosen field by experimenting with a Gilbert chemistry set. His fate was sealed at a family gathering when a chemical engineer uncle showed Maryanoff how to melt an aspirin tablet. The pungent odor that his “experiment” emitted was “powerfully amazing” and offended just about everyone there, Maryanoff recalls. The young scientist was hooked.
Maryanoff is best known for the discovery of the anticonvulsant topiramate, which has been sold by Johnson & Johnson under the brand name Topamax since 1996. Approved to treat epilepsy and migraines, the drug brought in peak annual sales of $2 billion.
Although he’s enjoyed an illustrious career as a medicinal chemist, Maryanoff didn’t initially set out to invent drugs. While he was a postdoctoral fellow in Kurt Mislow’s lab at Princeton University, Maryanoff was sure his next step would be a job in academia. By the time he was wrapping up there, the U.S. was in the grips of the nasty recession of 1973–74. Maryanoff read a C&EN article suggesting that universities would be experiencing funding cutbacks, so he began to contemplate a career in industry.
Health care seemed to be a field with longevity, and Maryanoff recalls sending upward of 40 letters to pharmaceutical companies in search of a job. Most firms never replied, he says, but eventually a small outfit called McNeil Laboratories—owned by a bigger outfit called Johnson & Johnson—offered him a position.
Maryanoff was initially hired to do process chemistry. After a year, he reminded his bosses of his keen interest in drug discovery and they soon moved him into that function. Within his first five years of working as a drug hunter, he, along with his collaborators, struck upon topiramate.
During his 35 years at J&J, Maryanoff and his colleagues were able to move 23 molecules into preclinical trials, with 13 of those advancing into human studies. That research contributed to his 275 scientific publications and 99 U.S. patents.
“The results of Bruce’s efforts are always outstanding and inspiring,” says William J. Greenlee, principal at MedChem Discovery Consulting and the former head of medicinal chemistry at Merck. “He has demonstrated an exceptional ability to direct the research of his group toward successful drug candidates.”
As Maryanoff approached retirement from J&J, he joined Scripps Research Institute in California as a visiting investigator, where he collaborates with M. Reza Ghadiri on research involving self-assembling molecular systems, protein-lipid interactions, and modulators of epigenetic pathways. After his retirement in 2010, he also took on roles at the Pennsylvania Drug Discovery Institute and at the Institute for Hepatitis & Virus Research.
In addition to expanding the panoply of potential treatments for serious disorders, Maryanoff has been a tireless contributor to the wider chemistry community. He currently serves as an associate editor for ACS Medicinal Chemistry Letters and has sat on the editorial boards of more than a dozen journals.
Maryanoff will present the award address before the ACS Division of Medicinal Chemistry.
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