Wells receives the Bristol-Myers Squibb Smissman Award

James Wells, PhD, chair of the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, UCSF School of Pharmacy, has been honored with the 2011 Bristol-Myers Squibb Smissman Award. The Smissman Award calls attention to a senior scientist whose work has had a substantial impact on the intellectual and theoretical development of medicinal chemistry. Wells is known for the discovery and design of small molecules that trigger or modulate cellular processes. The award was presented by The Division of Medicinal Chemistry of the American Chemical Society (ACS) at the ACS annual meeting in Anaheim, California on March 28, 2011.

Reprinted with permission from The Reaction Times, February 2011 — a newsletter published by the American Chemical Society Division of Medicinal Chemistry

James A. Wells to receives Bristol-Myers Squibb Smissman Award

Dr. James A. Wells, Harry Wm. and Diana V. Hind Professor in Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of California, San Francisco, will receive the 2011 Edward E. Smissman Award, sponsored by Bristol-Myers Squibb. He will receive this award in the Division of Medicinal Chemistry at the 241st American Chemical Society (ACS) National Meeting in Anaheim (Monday morning session, March 28, 2011).

James A. Wells, PhD, is a leader in the development of new technologies for engineering proteins and for identifying small molecules to aid in drug discovery. Wells is a professor and chair of the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry in the UCSF School of Pharmacy. He holds a joint appointment as professor in the Department of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology in the School of Medicine. He joined UCSF in 2005 as the first holder of the Harry Wm. and Diana V. Hind Distinguished Professorship in Pharmaceutical Sciences. He earned a PhD degree in biochemistry from Washington State University with Professor Ralph Yount in 1979 and completed postdoctoral work at Stanford University School of Medicine with Professor George Stark in 1982.

At UCSF, Wells’ research group focuses on the discovery and design of small molecules and enzymes that trigger or modulate cellular processes in inflammation and cancer. Using small molecules and engineered proteins, the Wells lab is studying how enzymes known as proteases are turned on to cleave particular proteins in cells. The lab is focusing on a set of proteases, known as caspases, responsible for fate determining cellular decisions involved in apoptosis and innate inflammation among others. These enzymes act as cellular remodelers and help us understand the essential protein struts that support life. Wells’ research spans the multiple disciplines of biophysics, cell biology, molecular biology, biochemistry and chemistry.

Wells also directs the Small Molecule Discovery Center (SMDC), which he founded. The SMDC is located at UCSF’s Mission Bay campus in the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3), where Wells is a faculty affiliate. Center activities focus on helping UCSF and QB3 researchers identify small molecules that modulate biochemical or cellular processes and have the potential to alter disease states. The ultimate goal of SMDC research is to help pave the way for the development of new small molecule therapeutics.

Before joining UCSF, Wells was the founding scientist in Genentech’s Protein Engineering Department. He then co-founded Sunesis Pharmaceuticals, where he served as president and chief scientific officer and co-invented a novel drug discovery process, called Tethering, to efficiently screen molecules in search of the most potent compounds to block specific protein action. In 2010 he cofounded Calithera Biosciences, a company focused on the discovery and development of novel small molecule cancer therapeutics through activation of caspases.

Wells is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a recipient of the Hans Neurath Award by the Protein Society, the Pfizer Award given by the American Chemical Society, the Perlman Lecture Award given by the ACS Biotechnology Division, the du Vigneaud Award given by the American Peptide Society, and the 2010 Merck Award from the ASBMB.


School of Pharmacy, Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, PharmD Degree Program, QBC, CCB, Biophysics

About the School: The UCSF School of Pharmacy aims to solve the most pressing health care problems and strives to ensure that each patient receives the safest, most effective treatments. Our discoveries seed the development of novel therapies, and our researchers consistently lead the nation in NIH funding. The School’s doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) degree program, with its unique emphasis on scientific thinking, prepares students to be critical thinkers and leaders in their field.