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Stephen Benkovic Named a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors

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15 December 2015

Stephen J. Benkovic

Stephen J. Benkovic, an Evan Pugh Professor of Chemistry and Holder of the Eberly Family Chair in Chemistry at Penn State University, has been elected as a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors. The award is considered to be a high honor "bestowed upon academic inventors who have demonstrated a prolific spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development, and the welfare of society." Benkovic is the only current Penn State faculty member who has been honored as a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI).

Benkovic is being honored for his invention of boron-containing pharmaceuticals. He and Lucille Shapiro founded Anacor Pharmaceuticals, which has two topical drugs: one for nail and skin infections and the other for a type of eczema called atopic dermatitis. The first, Kerydin, is now a marketed drug. The second has just recently completed phase-3 clinical trials and is in line for approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In addition, Benkovic and others have founded a second company, Boragen. Based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Boragen's mission is to discover and then to develop boron-containing antifungicides that are useful in agriculture and in other environments.

The NAI Fellows elected in 2015 account for more than 5,300 issued U.S. patents, bringing the collective patents held by the 582 NAI Fellows to more than 20,000. Fellows of the National Academy of Inventors are nominated by their peers for outstanding contributions in areas such as patents and licensing, innovative discovery and technology, support and enhancement of innovation, and having a significant impact on the society or economy through innovative discoveries, creating startup companies, and enhancing the culture of academic invention.

Benkovic is renowned for his research accomplishments, which have been described as highly original, of unusual breadth, and as having a profound impact on understanding how proteins function as catalysts. His work continually is recognized to be at the forefront of research at the interface of chemistry and biology. He is considered to be among the most prominent mechanistic enzymologists in the world.

Benkovic's studies feature state-of-the-art chemical-biological techniques that include the development and application of innovative kinetic methods, the invention of novel biological protocols for investigating the chemical sequence and structural basis of enzyme activity, and the discovery of enzyme inhibitors with therapeutic potential. With these techniques, he has studied many different enzyme systems that are important in human biology, including research that has been of fundamental importance in the design of cancer drugs and antibiotics.

Among his many consultantships, he serves as the head of the scientific advisory board for Anacor Pharmaceuticals. He is a member of the external advisory group for the Geisinger Medical Center, and serves as a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and of a number of advisory committees for the Penn State Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences.

Among his many honors, Benkovic was one of ten eminent researchers named by President Obama to receive the 2009 National Medal of Science, the nation's highest award for lifetime achievement in scientific research. In 2011, the National Academy of Sciences honored him with its Award in Chemical Sciences in recognition of his groundbreaking contributions to understanding catalysis and complex biological machines -- specifically the purinosome and DNA polymerases -- and for demonstrating the power of chemistry to solve biological problems.

Benkovic's honors also include the Ralph F. Hirschmann Award in Peptide Chemistry given by the American Chemical Society in 2010, the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Life Science in 2009, the Royal Society Centenary Award in 2006, the Nakanishi Prize of the American Chemical Society in 2005, the Merck Award of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in 2003, the Christian B. Anfinsen Award in 2000, the Chemical Pioneer Award of the American Institute of Chemists in 1998, an honorary doctorate-of-science degree from Lehigh University in 1995, the Alfred Bader Award in Bioinorganic or Bioorganic Chemistry of the American Chemical Society in 1995, the Repligen Award in 1989, the National Institutes of Health Merit Award in 1988, the Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award in 1988, the Gowland Hopkins Award in 1986, the Pfizer Enzyme Award in 1977, a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1976, the National Institutes of Health Career Development Award from 1969 to 1974, the Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship from 1968 to 1974, and the Eastman Kodak Scientific Award in 1962.

He became a member of the American Philosophical Society in 2002, a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences in 1994, a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1987, a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1985, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1984. He is a member of the American Chemical Society, the Federation of American Biologists, Sigma Xi, and the Chemical Society.

A 1960 graduate of Lehigh University with magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa honors and bachelors degrees in English literature and in chemistry, Benkovic earned a doctoral degree in organic chemistry with minors in physical chemistry and biochemistry at Cornell University in 1963. From 1964 to 1965 he was a postdoctoral research associate at the University of California at Santa Barbara. He joined the Penn State faculty as an assistant professor of chemistry in 1965 and was promoted to associate professor in 1967, then to professor in 1970. The University honored him with the title of Evan Pugh Professor of Chemistry in 1977, Holder of the University Chair in Biological Sciences in 1984, and Holder of the Eberly Family Chair in Chemistry in 1986.

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Stephen J. Benkovic: sjb1@psu.edu, (+1) 814-865-2882
Barbara Kennedy (PIO): science@psu.edu, (+1) 814-863-4682

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