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Alfred Burger Award In Medicinal Chemistry

by Lisa M. Jarvis
February 10, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 6

Photo of John Macor, executive director of neuroscience chemistry, Bristol-Myers Squibb

Sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline

John E. Macor knew from an early age that he wanted to be a medicinal chemist. He first became captivated by the power of small molecules after reading an article about the Salem witch trials in high school. A hypothesis floated in the 1970s suggested that the bizarre behavior by residents of that colonial Massachusetts town was the result of consumed ergot alkaloids, similar to the hallucinogen LSD, produced by fungus on their stored grain.

“I thought it was amazing those small molecules could have such an effect,” Macor recalls. Ultimately, “that brought me to neuroscience.”

Macor, who is now 54, went on to study chemistry at the University of Notre Dame. He earned his doctoral degree from Prince­ton University, where he expanded the use of reverse-electron-demand Diels-Alder reactions to produce novel heterocycles.

Macor started his industrial career in 1986 at Pfizer, where he was instrumental in discovering the migraine treatment Relpax. Macor says he “has been extremely gratified” to have personally met those whom the drug has helped.

After a short period at AstraZeneca, Macor moved to Bristol-Myers Squibb in 1997. He started out in the company’s cardiovascular group. He led a team that discovered BMS-346567, a novel antihypertensive agent now entering clinical trials to treat kidney disease. In 2001, he became executive director of neuroscience chemistry, heading a team of more than 100 medicinal chemists. Most recently, his group’s compound BMS-927711 was shown to be active as a calcitonin gene-related peptide antagonist in a Phase II trial for migraine.

In his nearly 28 years working in the pharmaceutical industry, Macor has been an author on more than 135 publications and an inventor on more than 85 patents in the U.S. At least 10 of the discoveries made with his teams have entered into human clinical trials, and a number of compounds for which Macor himself was an inventor are currently in clinical trials.

“It is rare for industrial chemists to have established reputations in the literature for contributing beautiful and profound advances in fundamental organic and medicinal chemistry,” says Phil S. Baran, chemistry professor at Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, Calif. “It is almost unheard of for this to occur in a diverse array of subjects that run the gamut of synthetic and medicinal endeavors.”

In addition to his accomplishments in contributing to both the literature and the pharmacopoeia, Macor has been an active member of the medicinal chemistry community. He spent five years as the editor-in-chief of Annual Reports in Medicinal Chemistry, and he is currently the program chair of ACS’s Medicinal Chemistry Division. In 2015, he will serve as the chair of that division.

Macor recently shifted into BMS’s immunology group. “As a scientist, the whole goal of your career is to learn something new every day,” Macor says. This latest venture into immunology “will be a lot of fun.”

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



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