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Cedric J. Pearce
President (2017-2018), JNP Associate Editor, Publications Committee, Corporate Relations Committee Co-Chair, Fellow (2021)
Educated in England; left high school at 16 initially working in a steel works/foundry, but this was not a good fit with my interests in chemistry and biology; quickly resolved by finding a laboratory job in a cement factory - not brilliant but at least I was generating data - and then within a year moving to a hospital laboratory as a lab tech and there learning microbiology, biochemistry and hematology skills, and finding things generally much more interesting. (I mention this early involvement simply because it was there I learned a lot of laboratory technique.) In England, at the time, it was common to send apprentices to college to further their education, and the hospital where I worked was particularly interested in this. Following three years of this free higher education, including courses at one of London University’s colleges, and with good exam results in hand, I was accepted to the University of Southampton to study physiology and biochemistry, with chemistry as a minor. I completed my B.Sc, and Ph.D. in this department over the next seven years. In 1977 I met Sir Derek Barton (Nobel laureate and then professor of chemistry at Imperial College) who supported my application for a Royal Society European Science Exchange Fellowship, to be held at the Institut de Chimie des Substance Naturelles, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Gif-sur-Yvette, France - simply Gif to the European natural products community - to work with Dr. Stephan Gero on mutasynthesis and biosynthesis of antibiotics, and carbohydrates in general. Dr. Gero and Sir Derek were instrumental in finding my second post-doctoral appointment, in the School of Chemical Sciences, at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, to work with Professor K.L. Rinehart, Jr. on the biosynthesis of antibiotics. In 1979 Rinehart took me to my first ASP meeting in at Purdue University. Up to this time I had seven publications, one each in the Biochemistry Journal and Journal of Natural Products, two in the Journal of Antibiotics, and three in Journal of the American Chemical Society. Following two years with Prof Rinehart and mainly because of my interest in isotopic labeling, I was appointed as the School’s radiochemist, a position which came with my own lab, teaching assignments, and the freedom to collaborate and write grants. As interesting as being radiochemist was, but at the same time ambitious to study microbial products, in 1983 I took a position as Assistant Professor in the School of Pharmacy at the University of Connecticut in Storrs. Here I met Arthur “Art” Schwarting, Mike Edwards, Bill Kelleher and Ana Rother, all well known in the ASP and for their contributions to JNP. Prof Kelleher and I worked together on fermentation projects. I taught classes in natural products and was relatively successful at generating funding being PI for the National Cancer Institute’s Fungal Fermentation project, with Profs. Kelleher and Collins as co-PIs. Although I had funding to be employed at UCONN full time, i.e., salary was covered for 12 months, the last two years at UCONN I took the summers off and worked as Visiting Scientist at Bristol-Myers Pharmaceutical Research and Development Division, in Wallingford on anti-tumor microbial products; here I was introduced to a great team of scientists, including a talented microbiologist Ray Lam, and studied the biosynthesis of esperamicin and rebeccamycin. Mainly because of my interest in the discovery of new medicines from microorganisms, and with the help of an old Rinehart-group friend and colleague, Guy Carter, I was able to secure a position in the Microbial Physiology Department of the Infectious Diseases and Molecular Biology Research Section, Medical Research Division, at Lederle Laboratories (American Cyanamid) in New York. I spent the next five years working with Guy and colleagues on finding new medicines, pesticides and other leads for agriculture from terrestrial and marine microbes including actinomycetes, myxobacteria, and fungi, and becoming familiar with a variety of bioassays using enzymes and whole organisms. This was a very productive time and arguably one of the most enjoyable from a purely science perspective, to that point. Always having an interest in more entrepreneurial pursuits I paid special interest to the smaller companies that we collaborated with at Lederle and in 1993 I had the opportunity to join MYCOsearch, a North Carolina fungus research company, as a director, providing unusual fungi to various discovery groups. One year after moving to be with MYCOsearch, the company was acquired by Oncogene Science Incorporated, which later changed it’s name to OSI Pharmaceuticals. I had increasingly more responsible positions at OSIP to Director of Natural Products Research in the MYCOSearch division, and responsible for OSIP’s North Carolina site with 25 or so scientists. In 2000 OSIP consolidated it’s operations to the headquarters in New York and to focus on the development of Tarceva, but I remained in NC together with the fungus library and a small lab that I ran as a consultant. At the same time I was appointed as VP for Discovery Technology at a life science venture firm, Pappas Associates. During the following year I was exposed to a succession of life science entrepreneurs and learned a great deal about taking ideas and products and making contributions in another way, i.e., other than education, and working with start-ups/newcos, funding and venture capital. After this one year sabbatical, and still missing the smell of a lab, I founded Mycosynthetix, Inc. and acquired the MYCOsearch fungus library. Together with Drs. Barry Katz (founder of MYCOsearch) and Christie Boros (founder of Explorigens) we started a business with the goal of cataloging the biologically active metabolites from the fungus library and quickly established collaborations with some major companies; together we developed a sustainable business that relies on grants and contracts. Now in it’s twentieth year, we have worked with universities, research institutes, ag and pharma companies, and biotech start-ups, and have had funding from industry as well as the NIH - multiple SBIRs and sub-contracts on a variety of other programs, the highlight of which is the NCI-funded P01 program with Prof. Doug Kinghorn (overall PI) and Nick Oberlies (PI for the fungus metabolites initiative) to find cancer leads from natural sources. I’ve been fortunate to continue to be involved with academia and have held a number of adjunct/visiting positions, the longest tenure with UNCG’s Chemistry and Biochemistry department where I teach a graduate course in entrepreneurship for scientists. Since 2010 I’ve enjoyed being Associate Editor for Journal of Natural Products, and am currently also an editor for MYCOSCIENCE, the official journal of the Mycological Society ofJapan, and the Journal of Antibiotics, where I had my first publication in 1975. Finally, in 2017 I was elected as Vice President, and subsequently became President of the ASP, and this has been a highlight of my natural products career.