New Jersey chemist wins national award for drug discoveries

March 04, 2003

A.K. Ganguly of Upper Montclair, N.J., will be honored March 25 by the world's largest scientific society for designing compounds to treat disease, including cancer and high cholesterol. He will receive the 2003 E.B. Hershberg Award for Important Discoveries in Medicinally Active Substances from the American Chemical Society at its national meeting in New Orleans.

Over the course of his career Ganguly, retired from the pharmaceutical company Schering-Plough and now teaching and conducting research at the Stevens Institute of Technology, has approached the fight against disease from several angles.

First, one can start with molecules in nature that show activity against disease, he said. An example is the drug candidate Ziracin, a natural antibiotic whose molecular structure was a puzzle to researchers until Ganguly's experiments, measurements and deduction made it clear -- a critical step to designing ever-better versions of a drug.

Researchers can also begin by targeting a compound in the body that causes disease, such as Ganguly's work to block the activation of a mutated protein that can cause cancer. One such candidate developed by his research team at Schering-Plough, where Ganguly was senior vice president of chemical research, is currently in clinical trials as the drug Sarasar.

And third, one can start with the disease itself. "We decided to look for some mechanism of lowering cholesterol different from the statins," the current class of drugs, he said. Zetia, the candidate his team developed, has reduced cholesterol levels by an average 19 percent in clinical trials and exhibits a synergistic effect with statin-based drugs.

A native of India, Ganguly said he grew up with a generation whose good students were expected to study science. But, he added, his doctoral adviser in London, Nobel Prize winner Derek Barton, was the one who really inspired his excitement about a science career. "I very often think, wow, I do all these interesting things and get paid for it," he laughed.

Ganguly received his undergraduate and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Delhi in 1953 and 1959 and a second Ph.D. from Imperial College, London, in 1962. He is a member of the ACS divisions of organic and medicinal chemistry.

The E.B. Hershberg Award for Important Discoveries in Medicinally Active Substances is sponsored by Schering-Plough Corp.

American Chemical Society

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