Bruce Ganem, Cornell's Franz and Elisabeth Roessler Professor of Chemistry and J. Thomas Clark Professor of Entrepreneurship, is the winner of the American Chemical Society's (ACS) 2007 Award for Creative Invention. The award recognizes "the successful application of research in chemistry and/or chemical engineering that contributes to the material prosperity and happiness of people."
Ganem, who specializes in synthetic organic chemistry, solved a crucial problem in the production of paclitaxel, one of the most successful drugs used to treat ovarian, breast and lung cancer and a promising agent in fighting coronary artery disease.
First approved for ovarian cancer in 1992, paclitaxel (sold by BristolMyers Squibb under the brand-name Taxol) was initially extracted from the endangered and slow-growing Pacific yew tree. Major environmental concerns led researchers in France and Florida to devise a way of synthesizing the compound from the less-threatened English yew tree -- but that method involved a lengthy process and relied on a tree whose supply was also limited.
At Cornell, Ganem developed a new method for selectively reducing amide bonds, which are common in proteins, without affecting other reactive chemical bonds. Ganem helped Natural Pharmaceuticals, a Massachusetts start-up company, use that process to convert mixtures of taxanes extracted from the ornamental yew tree -- a prolific, fast-growing cousin of the Pacific and English yews -- into paclitaxel.
Ganem will be featured in Chemical and Engineering News in early 2007 and will be honored at the 233rd ACS National Meeting in Chicago in March.
Ganem joined the Cornell faculty in 1974; he is also active in Cornell's entrepreneurship program and has founded or co-founded several biopharmaceutical companies.