Donald J. Abraham, Ph.D.


Dr. Donald J. Abraham is the Alfred and Francis Burger Emeritus Professor of Medicinal Chemistry and Biological Chemistry, and Emeritus Director of the Institute for Structural Biology and Drug Discovery at Virginia Commonwealth University. Prof. Abraham received his BS degree in Chemistry from Penn State University (1958), an MS in Chemistry at Marshall University (1959) and his Ph.D. degree at Purdue (1963). Following the completion of his degree, he completed postdoctoral studies with Prof. Alfred Burger at the University of Virginia. He joined the faculty in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh in 1964, and rapidly rose through the ranks, becoming a full professor in 1972. Don assumed the chairmanship of the department in 1969, and served in that capacity until 1988. In that year, Don was appointed chair of the Department of Medicinal Chemistry at Virginia Commonwealth University, a position he held until 2007. During his academic career, Don held affiliate appointments in several departments, including physics, crystallography, psychiatry, pharmacology, biomedical engineering and biophysics; these appointments are a testament to his versatility and breadth of expertise in science, and to the interdisciplinary nature of his drug discovery research.

Prof. Abraham has conducted research in a variety of therapeutic areas, but he is perhaps best known as a pioneer in the area of structure-based design. His studies of the structure of hemoglobin and the use of that structure to design specific allosteric ligands represent seminal advances in computer-based drug design. He is recognized as the first medicinal chemist who applied protein crystallography to drug design, after proposing this concept to Alfred Burger in 1963. He presented a paper at the Alfred Burger retirement symposium that is regarded as the first reported use of crystallography in medicinal chemistry. Working with Peter Goodford from Wellcome UK and Nobel laureate Max Perutz, Don applied structure-based design methodologies to discover novel allosteric modulators of hemoglobin function. He published a landmark paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science U.S.A. (1983) that describes the first successful use of fragment-based drug design. His efforts ultimately resulted in the discovery of a hemoglobin allosteric effector, RSR-13, that was advanced to human clinical trials for hypoxic disease. Another analogue resulting from this work, 5-HMF, is currently in a phase 1 trial jointly administered by NIH and AesRX Inc.

During his career, Don founded or co-founded three successful companies: Allos Therapeutics, which produced an FDA-approved anticancer drug, eduSoft, a software company that markets the structure-based design program HINT, and kSERO that specializes in teaching children science through game playing. He also founded and was the first director of the Institute of Structural Biology and Drug Discovery at the Virginia Commonwealth University. This has been acknowledged as the first such institute in academia. In addition to these achievements, he has provided outstanding service to the field of medicinal chemistry, including serving as chair of the National Medicinal Chemistry Symposium, a member of numerous NIH study sections and as chair of the ACS Division of Medicinal Chemistry. Don has published more than 175 peer-reviewed articles, has been awarded $12.5 million in external funding, and has 35 awarded or pending patents. Notably, Don edited the 6th Edition of Burger's Medicinal Chemistry, and co-edited the 7th Edition of that series. He is the recipient of numerous awards and accolades, including the Humboldt Prize (1973), the Virginia Outstanding Scientists of the Year (2001), the Amgen Paul Dawson award in Biotechnology (2002), an honorary doctorate from the University of Parma (2005) and many others. He is also an elected Fellow of AAAS.