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
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.
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.”
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.
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,
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.
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.
“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