The appointment in 1999 of Philip Cole as director of the Department of Pharmacology and Molecular Sciences was a throwback of sorts. Cole was formally trained as a bioorganic chemist and as such provided a linkage to the roots of the department, the first of its kind in the United States.
Founded in 1893, the Department of Pharmacology and Molecular Sciences from its very beginning embraced chemical approaches to understanding and combating disease. Inaugural director John Jacob Abel, generally regarded as the father of American pharmacology, espoused the view that only through the utilization of physics and chemistry could medical sciences and medical treatment make any advances. Abel fostered this approach through his own research, and among his many accomplishments were the isolation of epinephrin (adrenelin), the crystallization of insulin and the development of the first device for the dialysis of blood.
When Cole, a 1991 School of Medicine alumnus, returned to Johns Hopkins in May 1999, one of his first acts as Pharmacology's director was to renew the department's commitment to foster a closer linkage between pharmacology, chemistry and medicine.
In celebration of Pharmacology and Molecular Sciences' new mission, the School of Medicine is hosting today the Charles E. Dohme Memorial Symposium, titled "Chemistry in the Service of Medicine," at JHMI's Mountcastle Auditorium. Begun in 1922, the Dohme lecture series was intended to promote the development of a more intimate relationship between chemistry, pharmacology and medicine. This year's full-day event, the 33rd occasion of the series and the first to be held since 1991, features four distinguished speakers who have, through their own research, represented how chemistry can advance medical science. Honorary chairman of the event is Professor Emeritus Cecil H. Robinson, who was responsible for developing bioorganic chemistry at the School of Medicine.
The series was initiated by Mrs. Charles E. Dohme in 1916, when she approached the trustees of the university about founding a lectureship in memory of her deceased husband, Charles E. Dohme, who had grown his business from a drugstore on Eutaw Street to a drug manufacturing company that became the pharmaceutical giant Merck (formerly known as Merck, Sharp and Dohme). At her death, Mrs. Dohme made a bequest to be used as an endowment fund, which maintains the lectureship.
Paul Talalay, the John Jacob Abel Distinguished Service Professor of Pharmacology and organizer of the symposium, says this year's Dohme Symposium, 10 months in the planning, was expanded from the usual one speaker to both formally welcome Philip Cole as director and acknowledge the augmented role of chemistry in the department.
"Dr. Cole is ideally suited to fulfill the new mission and goals of the department, which is to intensify the participation of chemical principles in pharmacology and drug design," Talalay says. "So in a sense we are celebrating this new commitment of the department, a new commitment to an old mission."
Talalay says it was Abel who coined the phrase "chemistry in the service of medicine."
"[Abel] set the pattern that chemistry should be an important central tool for drug design and development," Talalay says.
That pattern had grown somewhat out of favor in recent years, according to Cole, who is also the E.K. Marshall and Thomas H. Marren Professor in Pharmacology. In fact, Cole says, the diminished interest in chemistry in the Department of Pharmacology was one of the factors that contributed to the 10-year gap between the last Dohme lecture and today's symposium. The reappearance of the Dohme lectures, he says, is part of an effort to reinfuse that interest.
"I would say that we are making a statement that the chemical sciences should be an integral component of research in medical schools," Cole says.
Edward D. Miller, dean of the medical faculty and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine, will kick off the event with a welcome address, followed by a talk by Talalay, titled "Chemistry in the Service of Pharmacology at Johns Hopkins: The First 100 Years." Talalay's presentation will highlight some of the important contributions of chemistry to the field of pharmacology, and also will feature a film clip of John Jacob Abel speaking at a Dohme Lecture in 1930.
The four speakers are Samuel J. Danishefsky, director of the Kettering Laboratory of Bioorganic Chemistry at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Institute and professor of chemistry at Columbia; Roger Y. Tsien, professor of pharmacology and chemistry at the University of California at San Diego; Peter B. Dervan, Bren Professor of Chemistry at the California Institute of Technology; and Stuart Schreiber, professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Harvard.
The speakers--chosen by a committee representing the departments of Pharmacology, Chemistry and Medicine--constitute some of the greatest minds in their respective fields, according to Cole.
"The speakers are rare in that they have stature in chemistry as well as in the biomedical sciences," Cole says. "They are all highly creative and collectively have had an enormous impact on research and training internationally. They are all excellent lecturers and promise to have an appeal to a diverse audience."
Speaking of the importance of the collaboration between chemistry and pharmacology, Talalay says you don't have to look far to identify the fruitfulness of this pairing. As an example, he points to recent findings, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, of a new form of chemotherapy for patients with leukemia. Chemists have created an inhibitor that without much toxicity can significantly reduce the growth of these cancerous cells.
This "amazing" finding, Talalay says, is just one example of how you can't have one without the other.
"Of course every good pharmacologist has to have chemical knowledge, just as a good chemist can make molecules for pharmacological purposes. He may not be trained or particularly sophisticated in how to evaluate those molecules in the disease process, but it is obviously a collaboration," Talalay says. "So we are talking about chemistry in the service of pharmacology and medicine. That is the purpose of the symposium."