Invited Speakers

Dirk Trauner, Plenary Speaker (New York University)

Professor Dirk Trauner

Dirk Trauner was born and raised in Linz, Austria, studied biology and chemistry at the University of Vienna, and received his undergraduate degree in chemistry from the Free University, Berlin. He then pursued a PhD in chemistry under the direction of Prof. Johann Mulzer, with whom he moved to the University of Frankfurt and then back to Vienna. Following a mandatory stint in the Austrian Army, he became a postdoctoral fellow with Prof. Samuel J. Danishefsky at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. After two great years in New York City, Dr. Trauner joined the Department of Chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, where he rose through the ranks to become an Associate Professor of chemistry (with tenure). He was also appointed as a member of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. In the summer of 2008, he moved to the University of Munich, where he served as a Professor of Chemical Biology and Chemical Genetics. On March 1, 2017 he became the Janice Cutler Chair of Chemistry at New York University. He also holds a position as an Adjunct Professor of Neuroscience at the NYU Langone Medical School.

The broad objective of Prof. Trauner’s research is to demonstrate the awesome power of chemical synthesis with challenging target molecules and to use it toward the establishment of synthetic biological pathways. He is well known for his pioneering contributions to Optogenetics and Photopharmacology, using synthetic photoswitches to confer light-sensitivity to a broad range of biological targets. The chemical tools he developed are particularly useful in neuroscience and cell biology but also hold promise as precision therapeutics. Despite his extensive forays into biology and physiology Dr. Trauner remains an organic chemist at heart, as evidenced by the synthesis (and anticipation) of almost 100 natural products.

Dirk Trauner has been awarded the 2016 Emil Fischer Medal, the most prestigious award for an organic chemist in Germany and the 2016 Otto Bayer Award. He is a Corresponding Member of the Austrian Academy of Sciences and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry. He is also the recipient of the Kitasato Medal, the Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship, an ERC Advanced Grant, and the Austrian Chemical Society Award for the best thesis in 1997. He sits on the editorial board of Natural Product Reports and the editorial advisory boards of ACS Central Science and ACS Chemical Neuroscience. His students have taken positions at many leading pharmaceutical companies and universities.

Babak Borhan (Michigan State University)

Babak Borhan

Babak grew up in Tehran, Iran. He came to the United States for the last couple of years of high school, where he graduated from Fred C. Beyer High School in Modesto, CA. He attended the University of California, Davis, earning a B.S. degree in Biochemistry (1988), while working as an undergraduate research associate with Professor Neil Schore on Pauson-Khand chemistry.

Babak remained at UC Davis, entering the chemistry graduate program in 1989 to earn his Ph.D. under the guidance of Professor Mark Kurth and Professor Bruce Hammock. His research was focused on the mechanistic studies of hydrolytic enzyme, in particular Soluble Epoxide Hydrolate and the Neuropathy Target Esterase. He was also engaged in research to develop functionalized polystyrene polymers geared for synthetic purposes. His Ph.D. work was complete in 1995 having investigated radical-based ring expansion of bicycle[4.1.0]heptyl derivatives as a synthetic methodology for obtaining 7 member ring systems. He immediately began his postdoctoral studies at Columbia University with Professor Koji Nakanishi. His work there focused on the mechanistic investigations of 11-cis-retinal isomerization in rhodopsin, upon light activation. 

In 1998, Babak began his independent career at Michigan State University. His research group focuses on studies in three areas of organic chemistry: reaction development, methodology and synthesis with the emphasis on developing single step transformation of readily available molecular scaffolds into new and unique architechures; bioorganic chemistry focused on rational protein design to investigate biological phenomena, and also investigation of fatty acid oxides and their biologically active metabolites; and organic spectroscopy with the emphasis on developing simple to use and accessible methodologies for the absolute determination of stereochemistry of organic molecules utilizing circular dichroism.

Emily P. Balskus (Harvard)

Professor Emily Balskus

Emily is originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, where she first became interested in chemistry as a high school student. She graduated from Williams College in 2002 as valedictorian with highest honors in chemistry. After spending a year at the University of Cambridge as a Churchill Scholar in the lab of Prof. Steven Ley, she pursued graduate studies in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology (CCB) at Harvard University, receiving her PhD in 2008. Her graduate work with Prof. Eric Jacobsen focused on the development of asymmetric catalytic transformations and their application in the total synthesis of complex molecules. From 2008–2011 she was an NIH postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School in the lab of Prof. Christopher T. Walsh. Her research in the Walsh lab involved elucidating and characterizing biosynthetic pathways for the production of small molecule sunscreens by photosynthetic bacteria. She also received training in microbial ecology and environmental microbiology as a member of the Microbial Diversity Summer Course at the Marine Biology Lab at Woods Hole during the summer of 2009.

Emily joined the CCB faculty in 2011 and is currently the Morris Kahn Associate Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology. She is also an Associate Member of the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, a Faculty Associate of the Microbial Sciences Initiative at Harvard, and a member of the Harvard Digestive Diseases Center. Her independent research has been recognized with multiple awards, including the 2011 Smith Family Award for Excellence in Biomedical Research, the 2012 NIH Director’s New Innovator Award, and the 2013 Packard Fellowship for Science and Engineering. She is also a 2012 Searle Scholar and was named one of MIT Technology Review’s 35 Innovators Under 35 in 2014.

Francis Gosselin (Genentech)

Francis Goesselin

Francis Gosselin obtained his Ph.D. in Chemistry from Université de Montréal in 2000 and was a NSERC Post-Doctoral Fellow at Stanford University.  He began his career in 2002, when he joined Merck Process Research. He contributed to process chemistry for several small molecule clinical development candidates at Merck Frosst and the commercial synthesis of cathepsin K inhibitor MK-0822 (Odanacatib). Francis led the technical transfer and integration of RNA process chemistry from Sirna Therapeutics (Boulder, CO) to Merck Research Laboratories (Rahway, NJ). In 2010, he joined Genentech Small Molecule Process Chemistry. Since then, Francis and his group have developed practical chemical processes for numerous early development candidates. In addition, he has contributed to defining and implementing a high-throughput experimentation strategy for Genentech that incorporates cutting edge workflows in the field of catalysis. In 2014, he was appointed as the technical development and CMC knowledge transfer leader for the selective estrogen receptor degraders GDC-0810 and GDC-0927 in-licensed from Seragon Pharmaceuticals. Francis has co-authored 37 peer-reviewed publications and is listed as co-inventor on 19 patents.  He is currently the Director and Head of Process Chemistry at Genentech and leads a group of 40 scientists that focus on innovative process research and manufacturing of GMP active pharmaceutical ingredients for the Genentech small molecule pipeline.

John Mulcahy (SiteOne Therapeutics)

John Mulcahy

John Mulcahy Ph.D., cofounder and Vice President of Research at SiteOne Therapeutics, has a background in synthetic organic chemistry, drug discovery and neuroscience. As a graduate student, he developed technology to prepare synthetic analogues of natural toxins that are potent, small molecule inhibitors of the mammalian voltage-gated sodium ion channel. SiteOne has leveraged this technology, as well as structural insights into the binding pose of the natural toxins, to design novel drug candidates with exquisite selectivity for the human nociceptive sodium channel, NaV1.7. John received a Ph.D. in Chemistry from Stanford University and A.B. in Chemistry, Physics and Classics from Harvard.

Emma Parmee (D. Phil, Merck & Co)

Emma Parmee

Emma Parmee is currently the Head of the Chemical Capabilities and Screening Group – a cross-functional department designed to bring together critical adjacent capabilities to accelerate innovation in strategy and maximize pipeline impact. The group includes high throughput experimentation, hit finding capabilities, network screening, modeling and cheminformatics, structural chemistry, and chemical biotechnology.

Previously, she was head of Exploratory Chemistry and responsible for the development of small molecule tools and lead series to enable the validation and progression of innovative new targets into the Lead Optimization portfolio. From 2010 to 2013, Emma was the Discovery Chemistry Site Lead in West Point where she was responsible for oversight of Medicinal and Exploratory Chemistry efforts carried out at the site in Neuroscience, HIV, and Bone. 

Prior to her move to West Point, Emma was located in Rahway where she worked for nearly eighteen years in the CVD and DO areas and contributed to several projects which have gone on to demonstrate clinical POC including the beta 3 agonist program and the GRA program. She was also privileged to work on the DPP-4 inhibitor project and contribute to the discovery of Januvia for which she was awarded Thomas Alva Edison Patent Award from the R&D Council of NJ and the SCI Gordon E. Moore Medal for Innovation. Her work has led to more than thirty issued US patents and over forty publications in peer-reviewed journals.

Prior to joining Merck, Emma completed a NATO postdoctoral fellowship at MIT under Professor Satoru Masamune. Emma came to the USA from England in 1990 following completion of her D. Phil. Degree at the University of Oxford, studying the total synthesis of milbemycin natural products.