Campus & Community

Potential drugs from nature land researcher national award

2 min read

David A. Evans, Abbott and James Lawrence Professor of Chemistry, will be honored on Aug. 22 by the American Chemical Society for developing strategies for making potential drugs derived from nature. He will receive the 2000 Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award at the national meeting of the world’s largest society of chemists in Washington, D.C.

“I’m in the design and construction business, but at a molecular level,” Evans explained.

Compounds are connected in precise locations with precise orientations – like the components of a building, he said. Biological molecules come in left- and right-handed versions, like gloves, and so must the drugs that interact with them.

“The handedness of chemical reactions is absolutely essential in drug design,” Evans said. “To that end, we’ve developed fundamental chemistry for assembling building blocks and controlling the three-dimensionality of molecules.”

He and his research team are particularly interested in vancomycin, currently medicine’s most germ-resistant antibiotic. They were the first to synthesize the bacterium-derived antibiotic in the laboratory.

“We’re also collaborating to reveal the details through which nature builds vancomycin,” Evans said. “We hope to improve and modify the biosynthesis to build vancomycin analogs,” which may be more potent or have fewer side effects.

Evans believes his most significant accomplishment is his students.

“I’m principally an educator,” he said. “Over the course of my career, I’ve trained over 200 graduate students, postdocs, and undergraduates. I’m proud of their achievements.”

Evans added that he has “always been interested in building things. My dad was wonderful with his hands, and taught me skills like carpentry when I was young. There are aspects of organic chemistry that are highly manual. I love that.”

The American Chemical Society (ACS) established the Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award in 1984 to recognize and encourage excellence in organic chemistry. Cope was a celebrated chemist and former chairman of ACS. The award consists of $5,000, a certificate, and a $40,000 unrestricted research grant.