Joseph G. Cannon, Ph.D.


Joseph G. Cannon received the B. S. degree in Pharmacy (High Honors) from the University of Illinois in 1951. He subsequently received the M. S. (1953) and Ph.D. degree in Chemistry (Pharmacology minor) from Illinois in 1957.

He was appointed an Assistant Professor in the School of Pharmacy of the University of Wisconsin in 1956 and he was named Associate Professor in 1960. He joined the faculty of the College of Pharmacy of the University of Iowa in 1962 and he was named Professor of Medicinal Chemistry at that institution in 1965. He was granted the title of Professor Emeritus of Medicinal Chemistry in 1996.

His early research addressed the conformational chemistry of depolarizing myoneural blocking agents related to succinyl dicholine and the three-dimensional geometry of acetylcholine. A compound resulting from this latter study was trans-ACTM, in which the elements of the flexible acetylcholine molecule were incorporated into a rigid cyclopropane ring system, freezing the acetylcholine portion in an extended conformation. This compound is a muscarinic agonist displaying equi-potency and activity to acetylcholine itself and lacking effect at nicotinic receptors. trans-ACTM is perhaps the only known synthetic acetylcholine congener which is as good a substrate for acetylcholinesterase as is acetylcholine.

Cannon and his pharmacologist collaborator J. P. Long investigated the chemistry, structure-activity relationships, and pharmacology of apomorphine and of many of its analogs and congeners. This work led to an extended search for anti-Parkinsonian agents involving, inter alia, conformational studies on dopamine and the design, synthesis, and structure-activity studies of many analogs and congeners. An offshoot of the work on dopaminergic agonists was the unexpected discovery of new compounds having specific effects at serotonin 5-HT1A receptors. The Cannon-Long groups conducted extensive synthetic, structure-activity, and pharmacological studies on hemicholinium (a blocker of choline uptake into cholinergic nerve terminals) as a part of an overall search for prophylactic agents against phosphorus-containing “nerve gases” and insecticides. Compounds were designed which were prophylactic against fivefold LD50 doses of the phosphorus-derived insecticide paraoxon.

In 1984 he was named Dale E. Wurster Research Fellow in the College of Pharmacy and he received the Iowa Regents Award for Faculty Excellence in 1994. In 1997 he was named recipient of the Smissman Bristol Myers Squibb Award in Medicinal Chemistry

He originated and taught an American Chemical Society short course, “Pharmacology for Chemists” which he presented many times over some 27 years. In 2006 he received an ACS Outstanding Teacher Award, incident to his work with this short course He participated in the founding of the Residential School on Medicinal Chemistry presented annually at Drew University, and for many years he taught in the School.

He served on the editorial boards of the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, Chirality, Annual Reports in Medicinal Chemistry, the Indian Journal of Heterocyclic Chemistry, and the Sixth Edition of Burger’s Medicinal Chemistry and Drug Discovery. He served as the Book Review Editor of the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry until his death in December of 2011.