Phil Baran is an organic chemist recreating pharmacologically interesting compounds isolated from natural sources de novo in the laboratory through an experimental methodology known as “total synthesis.” In nature, complex molecules are synthesized in catalytic pathways that have evolved incrementally over millions of years, but many cannot be harvested in sufficient quantities to provide viable pharmaceutical solutions. Baran has invented new approaches to synthesizing natural products en masse, offering solutions for the cost and supply problems in drug development and creating alternative methods for obtaining industrial quantities of biologically active compounds with minimal environmental impact.
Working across a broad spectrum of chemistry—from indole alkaloids to terpenes—he has devised ingeniously concise routes to notoriously challenging target molecules that are of great utility for pharmaceutical applications spanning antibacterial, antiviral, and tumor-inhibiting activity. More recently, he developed an affordable, elegant method for synthesizing cortistatin A, an unusual, marine-derived steroidal alkaloid that has shown strong potential in treating conditions ranging from macular degeneration to cancer due to its antiangiogenesis properties.
Baran has also devised a scalable and more economical route to synthesis of ouabagenin, a steroid indicated for the treatment of congestive heart failure, enabling broader use of a treatment option whose production costs put it out of reach for most patients. Baran’s research is not only enhancing our ability to make fundamental structures for a broad range of medicines and materials, but is also strengthening the intellectual foundations of organic chemistry.
Phil Baran received a B.S. (1997) from New York University and a Ph.D. (2001) from Scripps Research Institute. He was a postdoctoral associate (2001–2003) at Harvard University before joining the faculty of Scripps Research Institute, where he is currently a professor in the Department of Chemistry. His scientific papers have appeared in Nature, Science, Angewandte Chemie, and the Journal of the American Chemical Society, among others.