These annual awards recognize two early-career researchers who have displayed impact and/or promise of impact to the field of medicinal chemistry. Learn more about this year's winners, Matthias Gehringer and Amanda Wolfe.

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The Editors of the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, ACS Medicinal Chemistry Letters, and the ACS Division of Medicinal Chemistry (MEDI) are pleased to announce the winners of the 2024 Philip S. Portoghese Journal of Medicinal Chemistry/ACS Medicinal Chemistry Letters/Division of Medicinal Chemistry Joint Lectureship Awards:

  • Prof. Matthias Gehringer, University of Tübingen, Germany
  • Prof. Amanda Wolfe, University of North Carolina Asheville, United States

These annual awards are named in honor of Professor Philip Portoghese, who served as Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Medicinal Chemistry from 1972 to 2011. The awards are given to young investigators who have displayed impact and/or promise of impact to the field of medicinal chemistry and are presented yearly at the ACS Fall Meeting.

The awards will be presented at ACS Fall 2024 in Denver, from August 18-22, where the winners will each present a lecture along with other prominent researchers in the field. Join us for the award lecture as part of the MEDI Award Session.

The winners will also present their research on Wednesday, May 22, 9:00 - 10:30 EDT, as part of ACS Publications' Winners Week 2024 webinar series.

Learn more about the winners and their research below.

Prof. Matthias Gehringer

Headshot of Prof. Matthias Gehringer
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Matthias Gehringer is an Assistant Professor of Medicinal Chemistry and Chemical Biology in the Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences at Tübingen University and an Associate Investigator in the Cluster of Excellence iFIT (“Image-guided and Functionally lnstructed Tumor Therapies”).

What inspired you to pursue your area of research?

Actually, my fascination for chemistry started quite early, even before I was 10 years old. Although I was more attracted by the chemistry of—let’s call it compounds in high oxidation states—in the beginning, I got more and more interested in how chemistry and biology are interconnected during school, and I took a lot of inspiration from my great chemistry teacher, who always established a link between these two fields. During my studies, I came into contact with medicinal chemistry for the first time and it quickly became clear that this was what I wanted to do.

What I particularly like about medicinal chemistry and chemical biology is the highly interdisciplinary nature of these fields and the privilege of doing research where you can tackle fundamental biological questions by creating the right molecules, but also have the opportunity to do translational work, which means that the research results can even have a direct impact on patients.

What do you consider to be the most exciting advances in medicinal chemistry in the past five years?

There has been a wealth of exciting developments in the field of medicinal chemistry in recent years. We are witnessing a surge in transformative tools such as AI-facilitated drug discovery and protein structure prediction, cryo-EM, and DNA-encoded libraries. Concurrently, significant advances are underway in chemoproteomic profiling techniques, which also have considerable transformative potential. Furthermore, innovative modalities like molecular glues and PROTACs are redefining targeting strategies and broadening the horizons of druggability.

Personally, I am particularly excited about the developments in the field of covalent modalities. 20 years ago, most medicinal chemists shied away from making covalently acting drugs but now we are seeing rationally developed covalent modalities with a fascinating diversity of functional effects entering the clinic. Although this trend started over 10 years ago, it is still rising, and I am sure that we will see more highly interesting discoveries in this area in the coming years.

What advice would you give someone entering this field of research?

Given that medicinal chemistry is highly interdisciplinary, expertise in multiple domains is crucial. I remember an article in which medicinal chemistry was described as a modern decathlon, and you should prepare yourself for that. This means that, in addition to your particular specialization, you should try to keep an overview of related fields and their latest developments. And since you will always be working in teams, I think social, communication and team leadership skills are just as relevant as knowledge and creativity.

But the most important traits are curiosity and passion for what you do. These attributes are an essential basis for persistently working towards your goals and successfully completing your projects.

If you weren’t a medicinal chemist, what would you be?

When I was a little child, my grandma said that I was going to be a crazy professor studying plants and animals in the jungle. Now I ended up creating bioactive molecules, but I think it was clear quite early that I will end up doing something in natural sciences.

I was always very curious about nature and its phenomena, and I could also imagine working in a field of science where you do more field research instead of spending all day in the lab or office. Actually, my second passion beyond science is mountaineering. Sometimes I think about what it would be like if I had decided to become a mountain guide. But honestly, I don't think that would ever have been a real option.

Prof. Amanda Wolfe

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Amanda Wolfe is an Associate Professor of Medicinal Chemistry at the University of North Carolina Asheville and the GlaxoSmithKline Distinguished Professor in Molecular and Chemical Biology.

What inspired you to pursue your area of research?

I became interested in antibiotic discovery and development as an undergraduate student when I had my first research experience synthesizing antibiofilm small molecules in Dr. Christian Melander’s laboratory at North Carolina State University. After working on the development of anti-cancer prodrug therapies during my Ph.D. in Dr. Dale Boger’s laboratory at Scripps Research, I chose to return to antibiotic development in my independent career because I believed that this was an area with great need where we could contribute as an undergraduate only laboratory.

Research related to novel antibiotic development is not only essential due to the growing threat of antibiotic resistant pathogens, it’s also an interdisciplinary field that is ripe with scientific opportunities that undergraduates can get excited about and contribute to.

What do you consider to be the most exciting advances in medicinal chemistry in the past five years?

I would say within antibiotic development the most exciting advance has been increase in understanding of how Gram-negative pathogens prevent accumulation of small molecules, and what molecular strategies can be employed to overcome these defenses. More broadly in medicinal chemistry the most exciting advances have been in how we can use AI and data mining to guide drug development so as to more quickly generate lead compounds.

There is so much knowledge about chemical structure and activity across industry and academia that being able to harness that knowledge through an open science approach will dramatically increase drug development success rates and improve human health.

What advice would you give someone entering this field of research?

The most common advice that I give students when they join my laboratory is to stay curious in the face of failure. Medicinal chemistry is a challenging field because inhibiting a biological process is easy but making a new therapeutic is hard. Failure is inevitable, but it’s the curiosity about why we failed that will ultimately lead to the most interesting discoveries.

If you weren’t a medicinal chemist, what would you be?

Being a medicinal chemist and professor at an undergraduate institution is the perfect job for me because it allows me to contribute to a global health challenge through small molecule antibiotic development and to play a role in mentoring the next generation of scientists who will go on to have huge impacts on the world.

However, if I weren’t a medicinal chemist (or perhaps when I stop being a medicinal chemist), I would be a woodworker. I was drawn to organic chemistry as an undergrad because I love puzzles, function-based design, and working with my hands. Woodworking utilizes all the same skills, and you get great furniture to boot!

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