Kenner Rice, Ph.D.


Dr. Kenner Rice is Chief of the Chemical Biology Research Branch of the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health. His research over the past thirty-five years at the NIH has focused on the elucidation of the structure and function of neurotransmitter systems in the mammalian central nervous system (CNS) in normal, drug-altered and pathological states and the molecular mechanism of action of CNS active drugs. He has applied organic medicinal chemistry to study the mechanism of action of abused drugs and the development of medications for the treatment and prevention of drug abuse. This work has provided potential medications, many new research tools and valuable technology for drug abuse research.

One of Dr. Rice's major contributions is his development of the NIH Opiate Total Synthesis, which allows synthetic production of medical opiates and their antagonists in any desired quantity thus offering independence from foreign sources of opium, obviates concerns about potential future opium shortages (as occurred in 1973-1975), and offers opium poppy eradication as a worldwide strategy for the elimination of illicit heroin production. This synthetic route also provides the unnatural mirror image opiate isomers as invaluable research tools and potential new nonnarcotic drugs. Other highly significant contributions emanating from his program include: (a) the discovery of an imaging agent for positron emission tomography that has proven useful for study of the opioid receptor-endorphin system in conscious humans, and (b) the recent development of medications that prevent cocaine self-administration in rhesus monkeys without affecting control behavior. A single dose of one of these agents virtually eliminated cocaine self-administration for nearly 30 days. These agents may be useful as medications for the treatment and prevention of human cocaine and methamphetamine abuse for which there are no effective therapies.

Dr. Rice received his BS degree from the Virginia Military Institute in 1961. He then received his doctorate in organic chemistry from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1966, where he also conducted postdoctoral work. He conducted antimalarial research at Walter Reed as an active duty member of the Army, and also was a Senior Scientist at Ciba-Geigy for three years, before joining the NIH in 1972. During this time, he has trained 73 postdoctoral fellows, many of whom have now gone on to prominent scientific positions in industry, government, and academia. He has received 11 previous major awards, including the ACS Division of Medicinal Chemistry Award in 1996. In 2007, he received the prestigious Smissman Award, sponsored by Bristol-Myers Squibb.