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Chemistry Professor's Gift to Help Fund New Research Center

A Northwestern University professor has made a significant gift to help fund the construction of a new research facility for chemistry, biology and engineering on Northwestern's Evanston campus.

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February 28, 2007 | by Alan K. Cubbage
EVANSTON, Ill. --- A Northwestern University professor has made a significant gift to help fund the construction of a new research facility for chemistry, biology and engineering on Northwestern's Evanston campus.

Richard B. Silverman, the John Evans Professor of Chemistry in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, is donating to the University a portion of the royalties that he receives from sales of the drug Lyrica. Lyrica, a drug used to combat epilepsy and neuropathic pain that is sold by Pfizer, Inc., was developed by Silverman while doing research at Northwestern. Northwestern and Silverman receive a portion of the sales income as royalties.

"In honor of the gift from Silverman and his wife, Barbara, the new building will be named Richard and Barbara Silverman Hall for Molecular Therapeutics & Diagnostics," Bienen said.

"Professor Silverman is a world-class researcher, an outstanding teacher, a valued member of the Northwestern community, and now a generous donor to the University," Bienen said. "We're truly grateful for the support from Rick and Barbara."

When completed, Silverman Hall will house 16 research groups in chemistry, biology and engineering. The focus of the building is to bring together chemists, biologists and engineers to advance biomedical research through the development of new medicines and diagnostics. The building is designed to enhance interactions and collaborations among colleagues, which will result in improved detection and treatment of disease. Faculty offices will be clustered in the middle of floors. There will be a variety of meeting rooms and gathering places to encourage both spontaneous and planned interactions among research groups and across disciplines.

Total cost of the building when completed in 2009 is expected to be approximately $100 million. The Silvermans' gift will help fund the construction.

"Since day one when I came here, I've felt that Northwestern has been an ideal place to work. I've had wonderful feelings about the University and my department," Silverman said. "Now, having this windfall, I wanted to share it with the University to express my gratitude."

Silverman credited his wife for her support in making the gift to the University. "This couldn't have happened without my wife's support. She's not a Northwestern grad, but she loves Northwestern as much as I do," Silverman said.

Silverman Hall also will be the home of the new Chemistry of Life Processes Institute, which will bridge the disciplines of chemistry, biology, engineering and computational science. The institute will focus on designing new drugs for the treatment of cancer and neurodegenerative diseases and developing improved techniques to facilitate the earlier diagnosis of diseases, as well as other related research.

Much of Silverman's research has been in the area of epilepsy, cancer and neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson's disease, cerebral palsy and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, with a special interest in the mechanisms of drug actions and the design of medicinal agents. His interdisciplinary group investigates the molecular mechanisms of drug action, rational design and syntheses of medicinal agents that primarily inhibit enzymes, and the mechanisms of enzymes.

In 1989 Silverman first synthesized an organic molecule, which ultimately was marketed as Lyrica. "During research on our epilepsy project, we got surprising results that led us to have some of our compounds tested further for anticonvulsant activity in mice -- and one of them worked really well," Silverman said.

Silverman, who received a Ph.D. in chemistry from Harvard University, joined Northwestern in 1976. He is a member of Northwestern's Center for Drug Discovery and Chemical Biology, the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University and the Northwestern University Institute for Neuroscience.

He is author of three books, including the widely used text, "The Organic Chemistry of Drug Design and Drug Action," now in its second edition, and more than 230 articles in organic chemistry, medicinal chemistry and enzymology. Silverman holds 38 patents, and his research has been supported by numerous grants, mostly from the National Institutes of Health.

Silverman has received numerous awards for his research and teaching, including the Arthur C. Cope Senior Scholar Award of the American Chemical Society, a Sloan Research Fellowship, a National Institutes of Health Career Development Award, the Northwestern University Alumni Association Excellence in Teaching Award and the E. LeRoy Hall Award for Teaching Excellence. He is a fellow of the American Institute of Chemists and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Although Silverman's name will be on the building in which he will soon work, he'll actually be moving into a smaller office than he now has.

"They aren't planning to knock down any walls for me, but that's fine," he said. "I'm just pleased I've had the opportunity to give back to the University."