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An Overview of Historic and Contemporary Drug Discovery and Development…In an Hour

John D. Higgins

Distinguished Scientist, Merck Research Labs

Event Details:

Wednesday, November 1, 2023
11:30am - 12:30pm PDT


Stanford University
McCullough Building, Room 115
476 Lomita Mall Stanford
Palo Alto, CA 94305
United States

This event is open to:

General Public

Abstract: This lecture provides a unique overview of many of the diverse scientific elements involved in the drug discovery and development process.  Starting with a brief history of medicines in society and the birth of the modern pharmaceutical industry, the subject matter ranges from how new therapeutic targets are identified, through the molecular design of safe and effective potential new drugs to the manufacture of the final drug dosage form.  The topic is described from the perspective of a career drug discovery scientist, and includes contributions from many disciplines including organic chemistry, biochemistry, biology, materials science and pharmaceutics.  Particular emphasis is focused on drug delivery, with examples on the use of innovative methods ranging from nanoparticles to amorphous polymer-dispersions for enhancing oral drug absorption.  With potential career paths in mind for both undergrad and graduate students, the course also shows various examples of how seemingly obscure scientific topics taught in university classes are applied to real-life drug discovery and development challenges. A description of the preclinical toxicology studies and clinical trial/regulatory processes required for new drug approval is also included.  By the course’s end, both students and faculty will gain additional appreciation of the diverse challenges and professional opportunities available in the pharmaceutical industry.   

Bio: John received a BS in biochemistry from Albright College and his Ph.D. in synthetic organic chemistry from Brown University.  After completing a Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Institute in NYC in the departments of Positron Emission Tomography and Neurology, he joined the Medicinal Chemistry Discovery group at Johnson Matthey Biomedical.  There he worked on Pt-based antitumor drugs and diagnostic radio-imaging agents.  He later moved on to drug development, in positions of increasing responsibility at Johnson & Johnson and Sanofi Aventis.  For the past 15 years he and his teams have specialized in the areas of drug delivery and solid state chemistry, focused at the interface of drug discovery and development.  His specific expertise in drug delivery focuses in the area of enhancing the solubility of insoluble compounds, where he has successfully introduced a wide range of methods into drug discovery space.  More recently, he has been active in the design of prodrugs for improving physicochemical properties or targeting for specific disease states. 

John currently is a Executive Director in the Discovery Pharmaceutical 

Sciences department at Merck Research Labs South San Francisco Discovery Center as well as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Dept. of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics.  Spanning his 30 year career, he is co-inventor on 13 US Patents and author of numerous publications and book chapters in the fields of organic, solid state & medicinal chemistry and drug delivery. 

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