UT Southwestern researcher honored as winner of AstraZeneca Excellence in Chemistry Award

November 14, 2002

DALLAS - Nov. 14, 2002 - Other researchers have called his discovery good detective work. Dr. Patrick Harran calls it good chemistry, and it's helped him win national acclaim.

Harran, associate professor of biochemistry at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, gained recognition in 2001 for the discovery of a synthetic alternative to the structure of a natural marine product with anticancer properties. This year, he is being recognized as one of two national winners of the AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals Excellence in Chemistry Award for his work on diazonamide A. Found in a rare marine invertebrate called Diazona angulata, it is believed to have potential as an anticancer compound.

The award includes a nonrestricted grant of $50,000, which Harran said will help further his research.

Dr. Steven McKnight, chairman of biochemistry, said Harran's accomplishments are particularly notable given that UT Southwestern is just beginning to establish a reputation in synthetic organic chemistry research.

"The list of former winners of this AstraZeneca Award reads like a who's who of the most outstanding chemists in the entire country," said McKnight. "This recognition reflects well on Patrick, our Department of Biochemistry and all of UT Southwestern."

Harran said this award "is really invaluable, particularly as we are building a strong chemistry presence here."

The cell structure of diazonamide A was first reported in 1991 by researchers at the University of California, San Diego, and Cornell University. Because the compound had potential pharmaceutical use - and because Diazona angulata is scarce - numerous labs quickly began working to synthesize it. Harran and his colleagues not only synthesized the molecule, but by comparing the natural and synthetic products, they discovered that the initial structure reported for the natural product was wrong. They used X-ray crystallograpic and nuclear magnetic resonance data to re-evaluate the structure.

The researchers also found that the synthetic compound is as powerful as the natural product, an important aspect for future drug development. Harran said such a discovery is an example of the necessity of cohesiveness among basic science and medical researchers.

"I do pure chemistry," Harran said. "Most chemistry researchers don't think of a medical school first when they start their careers; it is not typically where a chemistry researcher would go. But our department is becoming equally strong in chemistry, biochemistry and biophysics. These areas synergize well and are ultimately important to drug discovery."

Harran was a National Institutes of Health postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University from 1995 to 1997, when he joined UT Southwestern. He received his doctorate from Yale University and his bachelor's degree from Skidmore College.

AstraZeneca, a multinational pharmaceutical company, is headquartered in London with U.S. headquarters in Wilmington, Del. It is engaged in the research, development, manufacture and marketing of prescription pharmaceuticals. The Excellence in Chemistry Award Program was developed to support advances and new thinking in chemistry and their contribution to progress in medicine. The award honors outstanding young academic scientists in the United States and Canada who are poised to make a significant impact in the fields of synthetic, bio-organic or mechanistic organic chemistry.

AstraZeneca also recognized Dr. James P. Morken of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for his work in the use of combinational screening to develop new catalysts for chemical reactions.
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UT Southwestern Medical Center

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