Pennsylvania chemist wins national award for drug research

Bruce E. Maryanoff of New Hope, Pa., will be honored March 25 by the world's largest scientific society for his leadership in discovering and developing new drugs to treat disorders, including topiramate for preventing epileptic seizures. He will receive the 2003 Award in Industrial Chemistry from the American Chemical Society at its national meeting in New Orleans.

"My job involves designing and synthesizing new organic molecules in the hope we can advance drug candidates into human clinical studies and then to the market," said Maryanoff, a medicinal chemist with Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical Research and Development. Or simply put: "I'm a molecular architect and engineer," he said.

He considers topiramate, or Topamax, one of his most successful projects. Not only is the drug approved in more than 70 countries to treat various types of epileptic seizures, he said, but it also shows promise in treating other disorders of the central nervous system.

Under Maryanoff's direction, topiramate was first synthesized in 1979 as part of a new approach for treating diabetes.

"The uniqueness of the project at the time was the involvement of carbohydrate chemistry," said Maryanoff. His research team was among the first to explore the idea of carbohydrates for disease treatment, but they weren't particularly looking for a drug to treat epilepsy. Its ability to prevent seizures showed up in early animal studies, however, and Johnson & Johnson decided to pursue it.

"One of the most exciting areas of research for me has been structure-based drug design," said Maryanoff. For example, "around 1990 my team and I initiated work on inhibitors of serine proteases, first focusing on thrombin." Some of these enzymes, such as thrombin, lead to the formation of blood clots; research suggests others play a role in herpes infection and still others in the growth of solid tumors such as those of breast or prostate cancer.

"We've learned a lot

Contact: Allison Byrum
American Chemical Society

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