A 2020 article in PLOS Biology of the 100,000 most influential scientists with regards to their publication citations includes at least 47 ASP members. Searches of those listed in the article by ASP staff found numerous familiar ASP names like many of the Fellows and ASP research award winners. Some of the ASP members listed are active now, and others trace back to the founding of the society.1 The rationale for creating this listing was provided by the article’s coauthors: “Citation metrics are widely used and misused. We have created a publicly available database of 100,000 top scientists that provides standardized information on citations, h-index, co-authorship adjusted hm-index, citations to papers in different authorship positions and a composite indicator. Separate data are shown for career-long and single year impact. Metrics with and without self-citations and ratio of citations to citing papers are given. Scientists are classified into 22 scientific fields and 176 sub-fields. Field and subfield specific percentiles are also provided for all scientists who have published at least 5 papers. Career-long data are updated to end-of-2019.”1 Those ASP members so-far identified that are listed in the top 10,000 using career-long data include Drs. George Robert Pettit, William Fenical, Jon Clardy, David Newman, Susan Horwitz, and Kuo-Hsiung Lee. Below are expanded looks at a few ASP members who were identified.
HIGHEST RANKED OVERALL
Pettit is the highest ranked ASP member that has been identified thus far, and likely comes as no surprise to many veteran ASP members. Pettit’s career in natural products spanned more than six decades, and his contributions to the field of new therapeutics for the treatment of cancer are recognized worldwide.2 Pettit, who recently retired from Arizona State University after more than 50 years at that institution, worked on many natural products that were investigated clinically, including the dolastatins recently reviewed by ASP Fellow Dr. David Newman in this Newsletter.3 As Newman detailed, dolastatin 10 advanced to clinical trials, and while it failed to become an approved drug, Pettit and his team synthesized the synthetic analogs (auristatins), and monomethyl auristatin E (MMAE) proved to be an invaluable warhead for a range of antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs), several of which have been approved by the FDA for the treatment of a range of lymphomas, and a good number are in clinical trials against a wide range of cancers. ASP Fellow Dr. Gordon Cragg wrote in an email, “Prof. Pettit’s research has focused on all aspects of natural products chemistry, including the isolation of bioactive agents, structural elucidation, biological evaluation, biosynthesis, and chemical synthesis. He can truly be regarded as one of the great pioneers and giants in natural products drug discovery, and he was among the first to explore the realm of marine organisms as a source of potential antitumor agents. His early research in this area blossomed into a marine natural products drug discovery program of exceptional productivity and achievement.” As stated by the late Prof. Carl Djerassi in the opening comments on the biography of Dr. Pettit by Robert Byars, “Pettit is one of the great heroes in the chemistry of marine natural products out of which he created a battery of anti-cancer agents not equaled anywhere.”4
HIGHEST RANKED WOMAN
The top-ranked woman ASP member identified on this list is Dr. Susan Horwitz, who recently retired after decades of leading a cancer therapeutics group at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Horwitz is most closely associated in ASP with her groundbreaking work on the plant natural product paclitaxel (TaxolTM) discovered by ASP members, the late Drs. Monroe Wall and Mansukh Wani. Her seminal studies leading to the discovery of the novel mechanism of action of paclitaxel were key to the decision by the National Cancer Institute to proceed with the development of this new and structurally complex molecule which was approved by the FDA in 1998 and is widely regarded as one of the most effective drugs in the cancer chemotherapy armamentarium. When informed of this recognition, Horwitz wrote, “It was a surprise …that I was the most influential woman ASP scientist. The various rankings that different organizations apply to scientists have never impressed me, but I am proud that the communications from my laboratory have been published in highly respected peer-reviewed journals and pleased that the experiments can be repeated anywhere in the world. The latter is a tribute to the students and fellows who have collaborated with me in my laboratory.” In comments following this article, Horwitz provides some tips to colleagues about building a successful academic laboratory.
FATHER AND SON
Among the 100,000 listed, a rare find is a father and son, both who have worked in natural products and both ASP members, the late Dr. Richard Moore and his son Dr. Bradley Moore. Richard Moore spent much of his career studying marine natural products at the University of Hawaii and was a renowned pioneer in the discovery of novel bioactive agents from cyanobacteria. His son is now a professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California San Diego, studying the biosynthesis of marine microbial natural products, microbial genomics and molecular genetic engineering. Moore commented, “It’s an absolute honor and privilege to be included on this list with my dad and so many other remarkable ASP members who have discovered and applied the chemical wonders of nature to better inform and protect the public.” When Moore was asked about his work ethic, he wrote, “I’m sincerely inspired by my group members. Their varied interests, goals and infectious enthusiasm are so motivating to me. I love being challenged by them. My work ethic was indeed influenced by my dad who was so dedicated to his work. I learned from him how to focus and how to ask questions. I would be remiss if I did not also mention my PhD mentor Heinz Floss who was a tremendous influence on me at such a pivotal point in my training. He quietly taught me through example many of the qualities that I hold dear today in my work – excellence, rigor, and innovation. He also taught me the importance of independence and trust. I am forever grateful to him for shaping me to become the mentor that I am today.”
Floss’ advice from 43 years ago still rings true today, and it is inspiring to see so many active ASP members included in the PLOS Biology assessment.
Like Horwitz, Moore provided tips on productivity that focused on how to effectively manage an academic team comprised mostly of junior scientists. “My advice to a new PI would be to empower your group members to take ownership and responsibility for their projects. While it is tempting to swoop in and solve problems and micromanage, I have found that the biggest motivator of my group that has led to our productivity (and innovation) has been when they combine their talents, interests and goals to solve problems that they are intimately interested in. So, help them find projects that they find fascinating, provide them with all of the resources that they need, and then get out of their way and let the magic happen. In other words, keep your science interesting and motivating to you. The rest is then easy.”
In a 1978 commentary by then-ASP President Heinz Floss, he expressed his shock that a recent survey of ASP members found that only about 20% were actively publishing in the peer reviewed literature. He stated, “If we want Pharmacognosy to be respected, every one of us has to contribute to its development as a science by engaging in creative scholarly activity in this field.”5 Floss’ advice from 43 years ago still rings true today, and it is inspiring to see so many active ASP members included in the PLOS Biology assessment. Anyone who wishes to search the PLOS Biology database can download it at data.mendeley.com/datasets/btchxktzyw/2.
TIPS ON BUILDING A PRODUCTIVE LABORATORY
By Susan Horwitz, PhD
Building a productive laboratory is not an easy task, requiring sustained hard work and the willingness to devote the many hours that are necessary. It should be undertaken only by those who truly love science and have a passion for their work. They must be able to attract and motivate the next generation of scientists, not an easy task today. In building your group, which need not be large, select potential laboratory members, not by where they received their degrees but rather by what they have accomplished and what they hope to accomplish in the future. Their commitment to integrity, which must be continually emphasized, is essential. Compared to other professions, one of the wonderful things about science is that there is room for a variety of people with unique characteristics, as long as they are compatible with the culture of the laboratory.
Compared to other professions, one of the wonderful things about science is that there is room for a variety of people with unique characteristics, as long as they are compatible with the culture of the laboratory.
The head of the laboratory sets the tone of the group, making it clear that productivity is essential and expected, but this must be done in an encouraging and positive manner. You cannot expect a student to solve a problem that you have not been able to explain for the past ten years. It is up to the mentor, in consultation with the student, to select a project that is of interest to both and is at least partially solvable within a reasonable amount of time. An important and difficult task for a mentor is to inform a student that their project is not progressing well, and therefore it is time to move to a new project. Only the mentor has the experience to know when this time has come.
Today it is essential that new faculty develop meaningful collaborations. It is almost impossible for one individual to have all the capabilities required to publish an outstanding paper in a competitive journal. It is necessary that your students are part of these collaborations, which start by developing an interactive group that learns from each other in an atmosphere where they are comfortable discussing their successes and failures. To be successful and build confidence, students must have the opportunity to present their research results before critical faculty and at national conferences. It is the responsibility of the mentor to be comfortable with the ability of a student to present their work orally and to prepare their results for publication. These are not easy tasks and may require extraordinary patience!
So, as I began this short note, let me repeat that building a productive laboratory is a most difficult task, but it can be extremely rewarding and stimulating, and it also should be fun!
To be successful and build confidence, students must have the opportunity to present their research results before critical faculty and at national conferences.
- Ioannidis, J.P.A., Boyack, K.W., Baas, J. Updated science-wide author databases of standardized citation indicators. PLOS Biology, 2020, 18: e30009188 journals.plos.org/plosbiology/article?id=10.1371%2Fjournal.pbio.3000918&fbclid=IwAR1LBmD2R_ YUSfpLxQ3VcGtIed4QC5To9WA0ZO_LFAX4dAxkK3_21hhF7bU
- Chapuis, C., Cragg, G.M. The search for natural substances with therapeutic activity: Summary of a tribute to ASP member Pettit. ASP Newsletter, 2016, 52(3): 13-15.
- Newman. D. Hot topics in pharmacognosy: The evolution of dolastatin 10 derivatives as sources of ADC warheads. ASP Newsletter, 2020, 56(4) 40-43.
- Byars, R.S. Waging War on Cancer. Dr. Pettit’s Lifelong Quest to Find Cures, Friesen Press, Victoria, BC, Canada, 2015.
- Floss, H.G. Commentary: Address by the incoming ASP President Heinz G. Floss, given at the annual meeting of the society in Seattle. ASP Newsletter, 1978, 15(1): 2-3.