Bernard R. Baker, Ph.D.


Professor B.R. Baker served as Professor of Chemistry at UCSB from 1966 until his death in 1971. Baker's graduate work on the structural elucidation and synthesis of Cannabis constituents marked the beginning of a prolific career in the chemistry of natural products. He undertook many diverse projects of medicinal interest including the synthesis of antihemorrhagic vitamin K analogues, biotin derivatives, compounds with hormone activity, sulfones with activity against tuberculosis, and alkaloids. He published two books and more than 370 papers that included a series of papers on the structure and synthesis of the antimalarial alkaloid from Hydrangea, febrifugine, that filled an entire issue of the Journal of Organic Chemistry in 1952. He determined the structure of the first known nucleoside antibiotic, puromycin, and synthesized it in 1955. This achievement came long before the discovery of the structure of transfer ribonucleic acid (tRNA). Puromycin was later shown to mimic the structure of tRNA and became and an important tool for research in molecular biology. Puromycin was too toxic for cancer chemotherapy, but it aroused Baker's interest in this field. Few of the myriad of compounds that he had so meticulously synthesized showed any antitumor activity in vivo, so he sought a more rational approach to cancer chemotherapy. Perhaps his greatest contribution to medicinal chemistry was the concept of active-site-directed irreversible enzyme inhibition of substrate-identical enzymes. A monograph summarizing this approach to drug design promptly became on of the classic works in the field.

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