< Back to Inductees

Burton G. Christensen, Ph.D.

Dr. Burton G. Christensen was born in Waterloo, Iowa (April 8, 1930) and received his B.Sc. degree in chemistry from Iowa State University (1952) followed by his A.M. and Ph.D. degrees (1956) in organic chemistry from Harvard University. He went directly to the Merck Research Laboratories of Merck & Co., Inc., where his final positions was Senior Vice President, Chemistry, directing ongoing basic research on human, animal health, and agricultural chemical projects, as well as being responsible for the scientific direction of the Merck Frosst Laboratories.

His early research was in the areas of diazoketone, steroid and heterocyclic chemistry. However, since about 1965 his interests have been concentrated in antibiotic chemistry. Before 1970 his most notable work was concerned with the structural elucidation, synthesis and analog syntheses of the antibiotic fosfomycin (phosphonomycin). In later work at Merck, Dr. Christensen’s focus was in the area of ß-lactam antibiotics. The total syntheses of the penicillins, cephalosporins, cephamycins and carbapenems (especially thienamycin) were all completed at Merck under his direction. The commercial products, Mefoxin® (cefoxitin) and Primaxin® (imipenem, cilastatin), resulted from this research. As part of the nuclear analog program, oxacephalosporins, carbacephalosporins and 1α-methylcarbapenems were first synthesized at Merck.

Groups reporting to Dr. Christensen have also synthesized ivermectin (Ivomec®), the world's largest selling animal health product, PedvaxHIB®, a conjugate vaccine for the prevention of H. influenza and Proscar® (finasteride), a 5α-reductase inhibitor for the treatment of benign prostatic hypertrophy. Several other products in the immunology, antimicrobial, cardiovascular and respiratory areas also entered development.

After taking early retirement from Merck in July, 1992, he became a member of the Scientific Advisory Boards of Microcide Pharmaceuticals, Neurocrine Biosciences, Onyx Pharmaceuticals, Pharmacopeia and Aurora Biosciences and also served as a consultant for Amgen and Genetics Institute. He then co-founded and assumed a full-time position as Executive Vice President, Research, of Advanced Medicine, Inc. (now Theravance, Inc.) During his tenure there, Televancin®, a gram-positive antibacterial agent now awaiting world-wide approval, was synthesized and several other products have since demonstrated efficacy in clinical trials.

He is currently a consultant for Theravance, Inc., Vitae Pharmaceuticals, PharmacoFore, Achaogen, Ensemble Discovery Corp. and Genentech. In 2004, he also served as interim Chief Scientific Officer of Infinity Pharmaceuticals, Inc. during the search for a permanent CSO.

Dr. Christensen has been invited to deliver plenary lectures at over 50 International Symposia and is author of 79 scientific papers and 181 issued U.S. Patents. He also serves on the editorial advisory boards of Medicinal Chemistry and the Journal of Antibiotics. He delivered the Sixth Cecile L. Brown lecture (1974-NJACS) and received the Thomas Alva Edison Patent Award (1985), Merck Directors Scientific Award (1987), Chemical Pioneers Award (1989-AIC) and was elected a Fellow of the AAAS (1996). He also served on the visiting committees of both the Harvard and MIT chemistry departments.

ACS Division of Medicinal Chemistry

Webmaster:  secretary@acsmedchem.org