Chemistry Department

The Chemistry Department within the Southern Research Drug Discovery division houses a team of chemists with extensive experience in both medicinal chemistry and synthetic organic chemistry. Current research and drug discovery programs cover a large range of various disease areas including antivirals and emerging pathogens, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, ALS, diabetes, cancer, and psychiatric disorders. One of the Chemistry Department’s main goals is to identify and bring forth compounds that can be classified as potential preclinical candidates and then collaborate with partners to advance these compounds into human clinical trials. Additionally, basic research is carried out as we explore compounds that may be used as tools to investigate novel targets. Several existing collaborative relationships exist between the department and external partners, such as universities, research centers, and the National Institute of Health (NIH). The department encompasses various disciplines in addition to synthetic chemistry, such as structural biology and protein crystallography, computational chemistry and high throughput synthesis and purification capabilities, as well and informatics tools to process and track data.

Chemistry Lab Personnel

Abishek Ray, Ph.D. | Postdoctoral Fellow

Ray earned his doctorate at the University of Texas at Arlington, where, under the guidance of Dr. Carl John Lovely, he studied the total synthesis of dimeric oroidin alkaloid. He earned his Master of Science from the Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati and his Bachelor of Science (Honors) in chemistry from Midnapore College, India. Ray also studied abroad during his doctorate studies and did a research internship during the fall of 2015 at BASF SE, Ludwigshafen, Germany, within its Research and Development (fungicide development) Division, where he focused on synthetic organic chemistry. Following his doctorate studies, Ray joined Southern Research in September 2016 as a postdoctoral researcher in the Chemistry Department. His current focus is on synthetic medicinal chemistry research involving discovery and optimization of lead compounds in the area of opioids. Publications

Atefeh Garzan, Ph.D. | Associate Research Chemist

Garzan received her doctorate in organic chemistry from Michigan State University and her Master of Science in organic chemistry from Shiraz University. After completing her doctorate, she joined Professor Wipf’s group at the University of Pittsburgh working on a new class of STAT3 pathway inhibitors. In 2013, she joined Professor Garneau-Tsodikova’s group at the University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy, where she worked on the identification, synthesis, and SAR studies of compounds possessing activity in the low nanomolar range against an enzyme responsible for extensive drug resistance (XDR) in Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Garzan joined Southern Research in 2017 as an associate research chemist. She is currently working in the area of antiviral drug discovery in the Antiviral Drug Discovery and Development Center (AD3C), one of the Centers of Excellence for Translation Research (CETR). She is responsible for providing synthetic chemistry efforts of various target compounds as potential therapeutics for the treatment of Chikungunya virus (CHIKV). Garzan is co-author of 16 peer-reviewed scientific publications. Publications

Bini Mathew, Ph.D. | Research Chemist

Mathew received a doctorate in organic chemistry from Mahatma Gandhi University by working at the National Institute for Interdisciplinary Science & Technology. She completed a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Konstanz, Germany, as an Alexander von Humboldt Fellow, followed by a post-doctoral fellowship at Ohio State University. She gained more than 14 years of research experience in medicinal chemistry, heterocyclic chemistry, carbohydrate chemistry, total synthesis of natural products, and discovery and lead optimization of small molecules for the development of novel drugs. Currently, she focuses on structure-based drug discovery for cancer and infectious diseases. Mathew has authored several peer-reviewed publications, and she is an inventor on several patents. She received the Southern Research Excellence Award in 2010 and 2015. Currently, Mathew is working on various collaborative projects between SR and the University of Alabama at Birmingham, such as Heme Oxygenase -1 Activation for Kidney Disease, NF-kB activation for the treatment of ALS, and TSP-1 mediated TGF-β activation for potential treatment of multiple myeloma. Publications

John Tillotson, Ph.D. | Scientist 1

John Tillotson, Ph.D, received his Doctorate in Physical Organic Chemistry and his Bachelor’s in Chemistry from the Georgia Institute of Technology. Under Professor Joseph W. Perry, Ph.D., his doctoral research focused on investigating the structure-property relationships of organic chromophores with hypersensitivity to electric fields for use in second harmonic generation (SHG) sensing and imaging of neuronal interactions. Through his efforts and in conjunction with Dr. Joel Hales, Tillotson developed a novel screening method for SHG sensitivity to electric fields based on neuronal membrane mimics. He joined Southern Research in 2019 and is currently working on novel countermeasures for skin exposure to chemical vesicants and TGF-β activation for the treatment of multiple myeloma under the direction of Dr. Bini Matthew.

Kevin Rodzinak | Research Chemist

Rodzinak received his Bachelor of Science in chemistry and biology from Misericordia University, Dallas, Pennsylvania. He joined Southern Research in May 2016 and is currently a research chemist in the Chemistry Department. Prior to joining Southern Research, Rodzinak was employed by noted companies such as Merck Research Laboratories and DuPont/Merck Research Laboratories. At these organizations, he contributed to the identification and lead optimization space in a variety of therapeutic areas and drug target classes. With over 18 years of experience in drug discovery from various projects at these pharmaceutical companies, he continues to design and synthesize molecules in various therapeutic areas with a current focus on antivirals and anti-HIV therapeutics. Rodzinak was a key contributor in the NMDA, PDE9, PDE10, and mGluR2 therapeutic areas. He was instrumental in the discovery and design of MK-2206 for the treatment of cancer, which is currently in Phase II of clinical trials. He is also an inventor on 13 patents and has published three peer-reviewed manuscripts describing his work of novel chemical compounds. Publications

Larry Bratton | Scientist

Larry Bratton earned his Master’s of Science in Organic Chemistry from Texas Tech University under Professor Richard Bartsch where he prepared several crown compounds for extraction of heavy metals from waste water.  He has more than 24 years of research experience in process, organic, and medicinal chemistry designing and synthesizing polymers, natural products, prostaglandins, and various heterocycles as new candidates for drugs, tools for biological research, and forensic science. Prior to joining Southern Research, Bratton worked for several pharmaceutical companies conducting research in therapeutic areas of cardiovascular, inflammation, CNS, allergy, and, dermatology. Bratton is a primary author on six peer-reviewed scientific publications, a co-author on nine scientific publications, and a co-inventor on 15 issued US Patents.

Marina Fosso-Yatchang, Ph.D. | Scientist 2

Dr. Fosso Yatchang received her Doctorate in 2007 in Organic Chemistry from Utah State University under the supervision of Prof. Cheng-Wei Tom Chang. As part of her graduate work, she utilized carbohydrates to synthesize antibacterial and antifungal agents, along with potential therapeutics for spinal muscular atrophy. In 2013, following her Doctorate, Marina joined the group of Prof. Sylvie Garneau-Tsodikova in the College of Pharmacy at the University of Kentucky. As a Postdoctoral Scholar in Organic/Medicinal Chemistry, she developed novel multi-functional molecules for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. She also applied her expertise in aminoglycoside for the development of therapies against infectious diseases. She joined the Chemistry Department in 2018 as Scientist, where she is involved in the development of effective countermeasures to the deleterious effects that result from the exposure to arsenicals, providing medicinal chemistry efforts to the synthesis of inhibitors of identified critical pathways.

Omar Moukha-Chafiq, Ph.D. | Research Chemist

Moukha-Chafiq received his doctorate and master’s in bio-organic chemistry from the University of Cadi-Ayad in Marrakech-Morocco, in collaboration with the University of Montpellier-France. He studied the synthesis of modified cyclic and acyclic nucleoside analogs as antitumor, antiviral and anti-tuberculosis agents. Following his graduate studies, he joined Southern Research as a postdoctoral fellow with Dr. Jack A. Secrist, where his synthetic efforts initially focused on nucleoside/nucleotide and carbohydrate chemistry. Since then, Moukha-Chafiq has gained more than 14 years of extensive research and synthetic experience in the areas of anticancer, antiviral, antibiotic nucleoside chemistry and small-molecule drug discovery. He has also published several research peer-reviewed manuscripts in journals of international repute. With his broad synthetic background and his experience with solid-, solution-, and liquid-phase methodologies employing both robotic and manual protocols, he has been the lead chemist on several NIH-funded grant projects and his scientific record includes several publications and patents. Publications

Phanindra Venukadasula, Ph.D. | Associate Research Chemist

Venukadasula earned his doctorate from the University of Kansas and his master’s from the University of Hyderabad, where his work involved the development of several phosphate-tether mediated one-pot metathesis processes and their application in synthesis of bio-active small molecules. SR accomplishments include: synthesis of a variety of target compounds; structure-activity relationships; and scientific findings shared via peer-reviewed publications and patent applications. One of his major contributions is the identification of inhibitors of three proteases – matriptase, hepsin and HGFA, as potential anticancer agents. This work resulted in the only known small molecule inhibitor of HGFA. These inhibitors were also selective against off-target enzymes, such as thrombin and factor Xa. He worked on small molecule inducers of 14-3-3Ө expression as a potential therapy for Parkinson’s disease. He designed and synthesized a series of compounds of which one analog has been identified as a potent lead compound. His current research involves the design, synthesis and development of small molecule inhibitors of HIV-Vif dimerization and inhibitors of Vif-mediated degradation of A3G as novel targets for development of HIV-targeted drugs. Publications

Rakesh Vekariya, II, Ph.D. | Postdoctoral Fellow

Vekariya received his Bachelor of Science in pharmacy in 2008 from JSS College of Pharmacy, India. He then obtained his Master of Science in medicinal chemistry from Virginia Commonwealth University. For his dissertation, his work with Professor Richard A. Glennon involved research focusing on understanding the mechanism of action of synthetic cathinones at dopamine transporter. He then moved to University of Kansas, where he earned his doctorate degree in 2016 in medicinal chemistry, working under the supervision of Professor Jeff Aubé. Vekariya’s doctoral work involved synthetic methodology development (tandem allylic azide rearrangement and azide-alkyne cycloaddition to obtain novel triazolo-oxazines and investigations on hexafluoro-2-propanol promoted Friedel-Crafts acylations) and structure-activity relationship studies to develop G-protein biased dopamine D2 agonists. He joined Southern Research in 2016 and is currently engaged drug discovery/lead optimization of mu agonist/delta antagonist opioid ligands as novel analgesics under the direction of Subramaniam (Sam) Ananthan, Ph.D. Publications

Robert Deimler, Ph.D. | Associate Research Chemist

Deimler obtained his doctorate in analytical chemistry from West Virginia University and his Bachelor of Science in chemistry from Georgia College and State University. His graduate studies focused on the development of a new fragmentation technique for mass spectrometry, metastable atom-activated dissociation (MAD), a project which sought to investigate the viability of laser ablation electrospray ionization (LAESI) for forensic drug testing. While participating in these projects, Deimler developed an interest in repairing, improving, and utilizing analytical instruments. At Southern Research, his current expertise focuses on liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry. Publications

Robert Hunter, III | Research Scientist

Hunter received his Bachelor of Science in chemistry from North Carolina State University. He joined SR as a research scientist in 2016. Prior to joining SR, Hunter was a member of the medicinal chemistry group at GlaxoSmithKline that contributed to the discovery of VOTRIENT (Pazopanib) for the treatment of patients with advanced renal cell carcinoma. His primary research interest is the use of medicinal chemistry approaches to support drug discovery in the therapeutic areas of cancer, diabetes, obesity, and anti-virals. His experience includes high throughput hit-to-lead parallel synthesis techniques supporting early stage discovery through candidate selection of both small molecules and peptides. Some of Hunter’s other research contributions include the discovery of aza-stilbenes as potent and selective c-RAF inhibitors as a potential anti-cancer therapy; the discovery of isoquinolinyl pyridones as SGK1 inhibitors; and the discovery of novel GLP-1 peptide agonists demonstrating robust activity in vivo and superior metabolic stability. Hunter is co-author of 11 peer-reviewed scientific publications and co-inventor of nine patents. Publications

Samuel Tanner | Associate Scientist

Tanner received his master’s in synthetic organic chemistry from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The focus of his graduate work was the synthesis of novel blockers of the voltage-gated sodium channels as a potential therapeutics to treat breast and prostate cancers. Tanner joined the Southern Research in May 2016, focusing his efforts on the synthesis of small molecule inhibitors as potential therapeutics for the treatment of influenza and HIV-1 research. Publications

Shuklendu Karyakarte, Ph.D. | Postdoctoral Fellow

Karyakarte received his doctorate in organic chemistry from the State University of New York at Buffalo. Under Professor Sherry Chemler, his doctoral research focused on developing efficient routes towards the stereoselective syntheses of structurally diverse saturated oxygen and nitrogen heterocycles using copper (II)-mediated difunctionalizations of unactivated alkenes. Subsequently, Karyakarte joined Boehringer Ingelheim Pharma Inc. in Ridgefield, Connecticut, as a post-doctoral intern, where, under the supervision of Dr. Chris Senanayake and his team, he worked on the rational design and synthesis of novel ligands and their applications in diverse and useful organic transformations. He joined SR in 2017 as a postdoctoral fellow and is currently working in the area of antiviral drug discovery in the Antiviral Drug Discovery and Development Center (AD3C), one of the Centers of Excellence for Translation Research (CETR), funded through NIAID, NIH. He is provides synthetic chemistry efforts of various target compounds as potential therapeutics for the treatment of Chikungunya virus (CHIKV) and Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEEV). Publications: NCBI, Google Scholar

Sixue Zhang, Ph.D. | Computational Chemistry Scientist

Zhang is a computational chemistry scientist in Chemistry Department. He joined Southern Research in 2016 as a postdoctoral fellow before assuming his current position. Zhang participates in a multi-disciplinary team for drug discovery projects covering a broad range of areas. He completed his doctorate in chemistry at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign after working with Professor Sharon Hammes-Schiffer. He received his Bachelor of Science in chemistry from Fudan University in Shanghai, China. During his doctorate training, he utilized various computational approaches for mechanistic study of bio-macromolecule, and he contributed to the development of an advanced free energy simulation method. Publications

Syed Kaleem Ahmed, Ph.D. | Senior Scientist 1

Ahmed joined SR in 2014 as an associate research chemist, and has now advanced to research chemist. He received his doctorate in medicinal chemistry from the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology, Hyderabad, India. Subsequently, he conducted post-doctoral studies at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and at the University of Montana (UM) in the areas of medicinal chemistry, organophosphate agents, and radiotracer development. Prior to joining SR, he was a senior research scientist within the Department of Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Sciences at UM. His interest in PET imaging chemistry is focused on the development of radio-labelled CNS and anti-cancer drug candidate. He is also interested in the area of infectious diseases with a focus on development of anti-viral agents targeting flaviviruses, coronaviruses, and alphaviruses. He is a member of the American Chemical Society and the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry. He is a reviewer for Science Direct, Bentham Science, and peer-reviewed journals, and he is an editorial board member for the International Journal of General Medicine and Pharmacy (IJGMP).

Theresa Nguyen, Ph.D. | Postdoctoral Fellow

Nguyen received her doctorate in organic chemistry from the University of Arkansas and her Bachelor of Science in chemistry from Henderson State University. Under the supervision of Professor Nan Zheng, her doctoral research focused on developing efficient one-step syntheses of structurally diverse amino-substituted carbo-and hetero- cycles using visible light photocatalysis. After completing her doctorate, Nguyen joined Southern Research in September 2016 as a postdoctoral fellow. She is currently working in the area of antiviral drug discovery in the Antiviral Drug Discovery and Development Center (AD3C), one of the Centers of Excellence for Translation Research (CETR), funded through NIAID, NIH. She is responsible for providing synthetic chemistry efforts of various target compounds as potential therapeutics for the treatment of Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEEV). Publications: NCBI, Google Scholar

Vandana V. Gupta, Ph.D. | Associate Research Chemist

Gupta completed her doctorate in organic chemistry in 2009 from the Central Drug Research Institute, Lucknow, India. Her graduate research experience includes the development of novel antibacterial and antihyperlipidemic analogs. Following graduate school in 2009, she joined GVK Bio, where she gained two years of industrial experience. In 2012, she joined Southern Research as a post-doctoral research fellow, and after three years, was promoted to associate research chemist. At SR, Gupta has been involved in the LRRK2 Drug Discovery program, synthesizing small molecule inhibitors as a potential therapeutic for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. More recently, she has been focused on an NIH-funded Cancer program, TSP-1 mediated TGF-β activation for potential treatment of Multiple Myeloma. The main objectives for each of these projects are to design and synthesize novel molecules with superior potency, ADME and PK properties. Each of these programs supports Gupta’s current research interests, which lie at the interface of chemistry and biology, with a focus on the design and synthesis of novel molecules for the treatment of cancer and central nervous system disorders. Publications

Vibha Pathak | Research Chemist

Pathak received her master’s in organic chemistry from the University of Lucknow, India. She has gained more than 20 years of research experience in organic synthesis and medicinal chemistry, including the design, synthesis, and characterization of a wide variety of compounds such as natural products, carbohydrates, nucleosides and small molecules for the utilization in the development of novel drugs. Prior to joining SR in 2009, she was a faculty assistant at Western Illinois University, Macomb, Illinois. Pathak worked in several research laboratories in India, Japan and in the U.S., conducting research in many areas such as anti-infectives and anti-cancer drug discovery programs. Some of the recent drug discovery projects she has worked on include: the synthesis of saponin-based vaccine adjuvants; design and synthesis of quinazoline-based chemical libraries as allosteric modulators of biogenic amine transporters; and design and synthesis of benzimidazole-based Wnt inhibitors for the treatment of pancreatic and colon cancers. She has more than 49 peer-reviewed research publications, presentations and patent applications. Publications: NCBI, Google Scholar