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Drach to Receive ISAR's Top Award

Dr. John Drach

Ann Arbor, MI — May 16, 2014 — A professor emeritus in the Department of Biologic and Materials Sciences at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry has won the International Society for Antiviral Research’s top award for his significant research contributions as well as mentoring students and younger scientists. 

Dr. John Drach will receive ISAR’s Gertrude Elion Award during the organization’s 27th International Conference next month in Raleigh, North Carolina.  Elion received the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1988 for developing drugs to treat leukemia and viral diseases and to prevent kidney transplant rejection. 

A biochemist and virologist, Drach has been involved with antiviral drug research since 1969 when he was a research scientist at Parke-Davis.  During his 44-year career at U-M, he collaborated extensively with Dr. Leroy Townsend, professor of medicinal chemistry at the College of Pharmacy and Dr. Jiri Zemlicka with the Barbara Ann Karmanos Center Institute at Wayne State University in Detroit.  Together they worked to develop compounds for human use that would kill a virus without simultaneously destroying healthy host cells. 

One of those compounds, maribavir, is now in Phase 3 clinical trials, the final stage prior to possible approval, in both the U.S. and Europe.  The drug will be given to a large group of individuals, ranging from several hundred to several thousand, to determine if it is safe and effective for widespread use.

Designed to treat cytomegalovirus (CMV) infections in several organs of the body including bone marrow in transplant patients, maribavir is being tested in patients who have severe CMV diseases that resist the best CMV drug now on the market, ganciclovir.  Although CMV can infect almost any organ in the body, it generally affects people who are immunocompromised, such as AIDS patients or those on immune suppressant drugs for organ transplants.  It may also affect babies who immune system is not well developed.  In these cases, infection often is in the brain.  In adults, infections are in the brain (CMV encephalitis), eye (CMV retinitis), gastrointestinal tract, lungs (CMV pneumonitis) and in the liver. 

Drach’s collaboration and research with Townsend, who himself received the Gertrude Elion Award in 2001, resulted in 50 new patents and the publication of more than 100 original research articles on drug discovery, medicinal chemistry and virology in various scientific journals.  Drach served a two-year term as ISAR president from 2002 to 2004.