Chemistry department to host lecture, seminar on drug discovery

GVL / Courtesy -
Dr. Brian Shoichet, Prof. of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, University of California, San Francisco

GVL / Courtesy – Dr. Brian Shoichet, Prof. of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, University of California, San Francisco

Anne Marie Smit

Grand Valley State University’s chemistry department will be hosting professor Brian Shoichet Thursday, Oct. 5, and Friday, Oct. 6, for a public lecture and seminar on the discovery of drugs and the advancements and challenges of modern medicine. 

These events are financed by the Arnold C. Ott Lectureship in Chemistry, an endowment from Arnold C. Ott, one of the co-founders of GVSU and a well-known chemist in West Michigan. With the funds provided by Ott, the chemistry department seeks notable chemists to invite to campus to lecture on their current research. 

To decide whom to invite, a group of four chemistry professors came together to discuss research that has caught their eye, but they avoided those new to the scene. 

“The whole lectureship was designed to bring high-power chemists,” said Stephen Matchett, chemistry professor at GVSU. “That was Professor Ott’s desire: to take this college he helped found and kick it up again another notch by bringing really high-power people in for our students to see.”

Shoichet is a professor of pharmaceutical chemistry from University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). The Shoichet Lab blends theoretical and experimental biophysical chemistry and chemoinformatics for the discovery of drugs and has widespread acclaim, with more than 180 published articles that have been cited more than 27,000 times, according to an email from Shoichet. 

The lecture scheduled for Thursday at 6 p.m. is titled “How Are New Drugs Discovered?” and will be held in the Grand River Room of the Kirkhof Center. In this talk, Shoichet will explore drugs as the foundation of modern medicine and the social, economic and technological events that lead to their discovery. Additionally, he will discuss the challenges the modern field faces, as well as recent discoveries that propel it forward. 

Thursday’s talk will engage a broader audience, open to both students and the public. 

“It’s the more accessible of the two talks,” Matchett said. “Students who are in the biomedical health sciences, chemistry or even cell-molecular biology might be interested.” 

Andrew Korich, an assistant professor of chemistry at GVSU, clarified that the lecture isn’t limited to people of scientific disciplines and should be suitable even for students unfamiliar with concepts in chemistry. 

“Even a non-scientific person will walk away with a big-picture understanding of the process of drug discovery, how they go from a conceptual idea to hard research,” Korich said. 

Korich explained that the purpose of the lectureship isn’t just for prominent chemists to give talks, but for students to get a sense of where they are, where they might want to go next and how to get there. 

“One of the greatest parts of the lectureship is the student interactions with the chemists,” Korich said. “On Thursday, before the lecture, we have a luncheon. It’s a great way for students interested in graduate school to network, get their names in someone’s ear.”

A reception will be held at 5 p.m. Thursday, which will give students the opportunity to connect with Shoichet and maybe share their own research with him. This reception is only open to chemistry students. 

“The purpose of that reception is for students to talk with the chemists,” Matchett said. “We even have the students put up posters of their own research here, so he or she can walk by and take a look at it, ask a question or two.”

Chemistry students can increase their exposure to Shoichet’s research at the seminar planned for Friday at 1 p.m. in the Pere Marquette Room of the Kirkhof Center. During the seminar, Shoichet will discuss structure-based discovery for under- and over-studied GPCRs. 

Unlike Thursday’s lecture, the seminar is not a public event. It is intended for chemistry students who have completed at least one semester of general chemistry and want to see some concepts learned in the classroom applied in professional research. 

Matchett said chemistry students in particular can benefit from going to both the lecture and the seminar. The lecture gives them a broad understanding of the process of drug discovery, and the seminar allows them to engage with more complicated concepts they might have learned in class. 

“The people who are farther up are riveted,” Matchett said. “The people who are at that transition get a feel for ‘wow, there’s a lot going on here. I saw this piece; I learned that in lecture.’ They start to make those connections.”