Jacobson named chair of the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry

Renowned researcher and educator Matthew Jacobson, PhD, has been named the new chair of the UCSF School of Pharmacy’s Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry. His appointment by Dean B. Joseph Guglielmo, PharmD, will be effective January 15, 2016.

Jacobson will become the department’s 10th chair since its formation in 1958. He succeeds James Wells, PhD, who is stepping down from the post after leading the department since 2008.

“Matt is deeply respected in the School, within the Graduate Division, and across campus for his groundbreaking research, his insights, and his provocative ideas to continually improve the organization,” said Guglielmo. “The School warmly welcomes Matt as a new department chair. As he assumes this role, I also welcome him as a member of the School’s Leadership Group. His leadership will be essential as we move forward to meet the bold objectives created by our faculty in the School’s 2015–2020 strategic plan.”

Jacobson joined the School faculty in 2002. He earned a PhD in chemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1999, and did his postdoctoral work at Oxford University and Columbia University.

He holds a joint faculty appointment in the Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences, a joint department of the UCSF Schools of Pharmacy and Medicine, and is a faculty affiliate of the Institute for Quantitative Biosciences-UCSF (QB3) and the UCSF Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases.

The School’s Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry explores fundamental biological mechanisms and molecules of therapeutic relevance, empowered by emerging technologies at the interface of chemistry, physics, and computational sciences.

The department’s basic research not only identifies new drug targets for small molecule drugs, it also develops the tools and methods to discover such targets and therapies, thus improving the efficiency of the drug discovery process. As a sign of its research success, the department is ranked among the top 10 percent of U.S. institutions in total research and development funding in chemistry.

Matt Jacobson

Matt Jacobson, PhD

Leader in graduate and PharmD education

Jacobson currently directs the UCSF Biophysics Graduate Program and teaches in three other UCSF PhD programs. He is also associate director of the Quantitative Biosciences Consortium (QBC), an umbrella for five UCSF PhD programs.

“It would be hard to overstate the contribution that Matt has made to the intellectual and organizational strength and vitality of graduate education at UCSF,” said Elizabeth Watkins, PhD, Graduate Division dean and vice chancellor of student academic affairs.

“His leadership of the Integrative Program in Quantitative Biology (iPQB) is testament to his ability to collaborate and innovate across disciplinary boundaries and to his vision for the future of the intersection between the biological and computational sciences,” Watkins added.

In January 2015, Jacobson was a recipient of the inaugural Dean’s Innovation in Education Award, established to recognize School faculty members making innovative contributions to Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) education. He was honored for revamping the program’s first-year physical chemistry course content, introducing student-led presentations in which student groups analyzed and presented scientific papers focused on the physical principles underlying drug discovery and development.

Implications of molecular motion for drug design

“Matt is an exceptional scientist who consistently seizes opportunities,” said Dean Guglielmo. From his PhD work in chemical physics to his current work in biophysics and drug discovery, the common thread in Jacobson’s research has been his fascination with molecular motion. At UCSF, he has focused on deciphering the complex motions of drug and protein molecules and understanding their implications for biology and drug design. He shares his passion for these topics with the PhD and PharmD students he teaches.

Jacobson has authored more than 140 publications and has also served on the editorial boards of eight journals, including Biochemistry, PLoS, Computational Biology, and Structure.

In 2004, Jacobson received the National Science Foundation’s prestigious CAREER award, which provides major funding to junior faculty members who “exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education, and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.”

He was also the recipient of a 2004 Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship. The fellowships honor and support early-career scholars whose “achievements and potential place them among the next generation of scientific leaders.”

Influential beyond academia

Beyond academia, Jacobson’s work has been influential in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries. Software written by Jacobson and members of his laboratory is widely used in drug discovery.

Jacobson has co-founded two biotechnology companies: Global Blood Therapeutics, which is conducting clinical trials of a new treatment for sickle cell disease, and Circle Pharma, which is developing new drug discovery approaches for challenging targets in cancer and other diseases. He also serves on the Scientific Advisory Board of Schrödinger, LLC.


School of Pharmacy, Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences, Department of Clinical Pharmacy, PharmD Degree Program, CCB, PSPG, Bioinformatics, Biophysics, BMI

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.