Medicinal Chemistry group
The Medicinal Chemistry Group

When Dr. Raj Rajur left ArQule Corporation in 2001 to start his own company, very few of his colleagues were interested in joining him. “When you have very preliminary ideas, it is hard to convince people to support you,” said Dr. Rajur.

His company, Creagen Biosciences, now employs 24 chemists, who are divided between sites in Woburn, MA, and India.

The goal of Creagen Biosciences is to provide medicinal chemistry knowledge and expertise to biotechnology companies. “We specialize in creating intellectual property for biotechs,” said Dr. Rajur. For example, Creagen Biosciences developed a compound for Mercury Therapeutics, Inc., that had nanomolar potency against the biological target.

MedChem symposia

Dr. Rajur heads the Medicinal Chemistry (MedChem) group of the Northeastern Section of the American Chemical Society (NESACS), which is a position that he has held since 2004. The MedChem group, one of the largest and most active subgroups in NESACS, organizes three annual symposia. The goal of the symposia is to “cover cutting-edge topics in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries,” according to Dr. Rajur. Each symposium focuses on a particular therapeutic field. For example, past symposia have focused on advances in the treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease, which affects more than 35 million people worldwide, and on the treatment of Type II Diabetes, also an extremely common affliction.

The most recent symposium took place in May, 2010, in conjunction with Sino-American Pharmaceutical Professionals Association (SAPA-NE). The topic of this symposium was “Discovery in China: Status Opportunity, International Collaboration, and Challenges.” The choice of this topic recognizes the increasing role that China and other Asian countries play in the pharmaceutical industry, as many companies find it more cost-effective to conduct some chemistry research in these countries.

Additionally, the symposia provide a networking opportunity for chemists from industry and academia to interact. Students who may be interested in a career in the pharmaceutical industry are highly encouraged to attend and network with representatives of local pharmaceutical companies. In addition to the scientific talks, Dr. Mukund Chorghade, past NESACS chair and CSO at THINQ Pharma, often provides a one-hour career guidance and consulting session during the symposia, which assists students, as well as other chemists who are seeking employment in the pharmaceutical industry.

The MedChem group is “doing very new things that we haven’t been doing before,” said Dr. Chorghade. “I am just delighted.”

Relationship with NESACS

The MedChem group plays an important role in the larger NESACS organization. Two of the three annual symposia are hosted in conjunction with the monthly NESACS meeting, and one symposium is held independently. Additionally, the NESACS website (www.nesacs.org) has a section devoted to the MedChem group.

History of MedChem

The MedChem group used to meet monthly at a restaurant in Sturbridge, said Dr. Patrick Gordon, chemistry lecturer at Emmanuel College and past chair of the MedChem group. However, very few chemists attended the monthly meetings, which included a chemistry seminar given by an external speaker. “Clearly we weren’t meeting the needs of our clientele,” Dr. Gordon said, as sometimes the only people who attended the meetings were the members of the MedChem board.

When Dr. Patrick Gordon assumed the position as chair of the MedChem group in 2004, he significantly modified the structure of the group and its programming, moving to the current format of three annual symposia. The group’s popularity has increased dramatically as a result. For example, approximately 70 chemists attended the December, 2009 symposium on “Recent Developments in RNAi Therapeutics,” which was held in Burlington, MA.

Another relatively recent change in the MedChem group’s organization is the source of funding for events. The chair-elect used to be responsible for procuring funds from various pharmaceutical companies, which would be used to invite speakers to the monthly meetings. Funding for the symposia now comes partly from NESACS and partly from local pharmaceutical sponsorships, Dr. Gordon said.

Future Directions

Dr. Rajur would love to see more people involved in the MedChem group. In particular, chemists are encouraged to get involved in planning the symposia and choosing relevant therapeutic topics for the events. The MedChem group conducts a long-range planning meeting once a year, at which time the topics of the symposia (and potential speakers) are chosen. Another future direction that Dr. Gordon suggested would be the establishment of a MedChem prize to recognize an important local medicinal chemist. This prize could be presented annually at the December MedChem symposium.

Yet another area for future development would be the elaboration of the NESACS website to include more medicinal chemistry-specific content. Dr. Rajur would like to add “fun and interactive chemistry links” to the MedChem section of the NESACS website. Dr. Rajur would also like to add links and advice to help students successfully transition from the academic world to a pharmaceutical position, which is often a challenging career move. Links that help visitors volunteer for and contribute to the MedChem group would also be desirable.

Conclusions

“What I am particularly proud of is that we represent chemists from industry, academia, and government,” said Dr. Chorgade. “This diverse group brings a fresh perspective to the table.”

“The people who established this group were the real pioneers,” concluded Dr. Gordon. “They saw the vision and necessity of having a MedChem group. We continue to benefit from that vision today.”