Gregory L. Verdine, the Erving Professor of Chemistry at Harvard University and Harvard Medical School, and the president and chief executive officer of FogPharma and LifeMine Therapeutics, was awarded an honorary doctor of science degree at Clarkson University's spring 2019 Commencement on Saturday, May 11.
The degree was awarded for "his breakthroughs in chemical biology that have resulted in fundamental new knowledge of the processes controlling the expression of genetic information, and for serving as an inspiring scientist/technologist/innovator/entrepreneur role model."
Verdine relayed advice he received from his grandfather, telling graduates that when someone offers a gift that they should take it with gratitude, but never to doubt their worthiness or worry about how they might repay that gift.
“The greatest gifts are the ones that you don’t quite yet deserve, the ones that inspire you to live up to them, that spur you to achieve, that orient you toward generosity, that ground you in humility and graciousness,” he said. “Live your life in honor of their gift. Then find someone in need of a gift from you – you’d be surprised how small a gesture of kindness and generosity can transform a life.”
Verdine is an award-winning university educator, pioneering scientist and innovator, life science entrepreneur, venture capitalist and successful biotech company-builder.
He is an originator of STEMgenesis, a new model for fostering community economic and intellectual growth through the convergence of philanthropy, workforce development, and institution creation.
In a distinguished academic career spanning three decades at Harvard University and Harvard Medical School, Verdine reinvented the teaching of organic chemistry to focus intensively on its fundamental connectivity to biology. He founded two fields of science that meld basic research and new medicines discovery: chemical biology, the pursuit of chemistry in the service of uncovering the mysteries of biology; and new modalities, the discovery and development of novel structural classes of therapeutics.
In his academic research, Verdine made fundamental discoveries into how living organisms manage their genomes, tagging them for cell-type specification, and conducting search-and-destroy operations for cancer-causing abnormalities. He invented a powerful new class of therapeutics, termed stapled peptides, which enables intervention into diseases previously considered “undruggable.” Hundreds of laboratories worldwide now conduct basic and translational research on stapled peptides and an optimized stapled peptide pioneered at Harvard is currently in Phase II clinical development for the treatment of blood-borne cancers.
Verdine has been among the most active and successful entrepreneurs translating academic research into new medicines. As an academic founder at Harvard and a Venture Partner at several prominent life science investment firms, he is responsible for the creation of 10 biotechnology companies, including Enanta Pharmaceuticals, Gloucester Pharmaceuticals (acquired by Celgene) and WaVe Life Sciences.
These companies have succeeded in gaining FDA approval for three breakthrough medicines and have multiple additional candidates in development. Verdine moved beyond company ideation and creation into company-building and management at WaVe Life Sciences, Warp Drive Bio, and currently FogPharma and LifeMine Therapeutics.
Verdine’s concept of STEMgenesis took form with his founding and inaugural presidency of the non-profit Gloucester Marine Genomics Institute and Gloucester Biotechnology Academy, which together aim to promote the creation of a vibrant life science industry on Cape Ann Massachusetts through coordinated establishment of a world-class ocean-based genomics research entity and an educational institution that trains high school graduates for rewarding careers in biotechnology.
He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry and the American Association for the Advancement of Science; he has received a Presidential Investigator Award, the Nobel Laureate Signature Award, the AARC Award for Excellence in Chemistry in Cancer Research and an honorary degree from Harvard University.
Verdine received bachelor of science and doctoral degrees in chemistry from St. Joseph’s University and Columbia University, respectively.