Goan chemist discovering new drugs
Dr Donald Pinto from Mapusa was one in a bunch of chemists that discovered the drug Eliquis, which can be used for prevention of strokes. Having left Goa to pursue his career, Pinto did not forget his roots as he took a little bit of Goa with him to America. His drive to succeed in his field, pushed him to greater heights. KARSTEN MIRANDA caught up with him
(Below is an edited version of the Oheraldo story)
In Mapusa, there are many who speak highly of an old classmate, fellow student or former lecturer. In the year 1980, Donald Pinto obtained his MSc degree in Organic Chemistry and subsequently left Goa to pursue his PhD in organic synthesis in the USA.
Recently, Dr Pinto was recognized by the American Chemical Society, winning the 2015 Heroes of Chemistry award along with his colleagues for their breaking achievement in drug discovery.
Donald was part of the team that had achieved unprecedented success, in the discovery and development of the drug ELIQUIS® (apixaban) : a novel oral anticoagulant therapy for non valvular atrial fibrillation for stroke prevention and also for VTE (venous thromboembolism- formation of blood clots in the vein).
Donald explained that the drug is now a leading oral anticoagulant in the world amongst cardiologists. “We are very excited about this product and it transformational potential for patients. Eliquis® was co-developed with Pfizer and is currently being sold by the Bristol Myers Squibb(BMS) and Pfizer alliance,” said Donald. Donald and his colleagues at BMS won the ACS heroes award for its discovery.
Explaining the run up that led to the discovery, Donald said it began when he was working at the DuPont Company where he developed an expertise in the areas of inflammatory diseases (arthritis) and later in cardiovascular science, looking at novel therapies directed at addressing unmet medical needs such as thrombotic disease (antithrombotics).
“At the time I began my involvement in the direction of thrombosis, the science was evolving on the benefits of a potent antithrombotic agent for the prevention and treatment of stroke,” said Donald. Donald added that Eliquis’s sales for 2015 approach $2B.
A peer of Dr Donald, Dr Helga Do Rosario Gomes (former colleague of Donald now at Columbia University in New York) has praised his work and said ‘it's a huge achievement for someone from such a limited education system and a good role model for many in Goa who don’t have many opportunities after their Masters’.
“He was my classmate from the time when we did our masters in the Post graduate center in Education Building (pre- Goa Univ). He has done exceedingly well for himself. He has worked in many well known pharmaceutical companies where he has produced many patents and won awards. He was just awarded the Chemistry Hero prize along with his group for developing a blood thinner Eliquis for BMS. I think it’s very hard to develop a drug from inception - hundreds are started but, very few make it and become such a big and popular one like this one. It’s also a very expensive proposition from inception to clinical trials, FDA approvals to marketing etc,” said Dr Helga.
Dr. S.K.Paknikar, retired Professor of Organic Chemistry, Goa University candidly shares his association with Donald. "When I suggested to Donald to go overseas and if possible to US to do his Ph.D, my idea was to ensure he got an opportunity to work in a stimulating environment both for learning and research. We have been in touch for the past 35 years. I have closely observed his research career with great interest and have chipped in with occasional suggestions when required. His development as an individual researcher and as a team member of BMS is a lesson to young scientists. The recent results of his research led to the development of a new drug Eliquis - which is much better than warfarin presently used for the treatment of VTE. This is the outcome of several years of research with passion, enthusiasm and a positive approach. I must say that it was my most proud moment when he informed me that his group has been announced as the "Heroes of Chemistry 2015." I salute him on this occasion."
“Setting goals and measuring accomplishments versus goals is very crucial for the growth of any individual and I am happy this culture was set in me early on in my career. Thanks to my colleagues and fantastic collaborations we are able to achieve a lot of great results,” said Donald.
The drive to succeed, a positive attitude, solid work ethic and a steady determination to succeed led the Ucassaim lad to be recognized as a leader in the field of anticoagulation and has now motivated him to expand his area of expertise to include heart failure.
In Goa, Donald briefly taught science at Holy Cross High School in Bastora his alma matter in 1978 as a substitute science teacher. He did this whilst pursuing his MSC degree. He was all around student, good at academics, sports, and an active participant in student extracurricular activities even representing St. Xavier’s institution (Mapuca) at the Bombay University level and winning honours even as a student.
Donald is part of a strong Goan Community in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, where recently they welcomed the Arch Bishop of Goa in August 2015, and recently with the goan community in Pennsylvania celebrated St. Francis feast where they also performed the corrudinho.
While he has attended conferences and given presentations across the globe, he has been in India a few times and he had had the opportunity in the past to speak to students at St. Xavier’s college Mapuca and Goa University.
Donald then completed his PhD from the State University of New York and followed it with a post-doctoral stint at Rensselear Polytechnic Institute, New York. He later joined the DuPont Company (Wilmington, DE) in 1988 in the medical products division.
“It is here that I began to hone in my skills as a medicinal chemist and devote my time to solve unmet medical needs, “said Donald. He speaks about how DuPont experimental station was the place where many of DuPont’s innovations were discovered such as Teflon, Kevlar, Tyvek, Cozzar (1st in class AII antihypertensive agent) etc. It was also the home for Nobel Laureates.
“So just being here in the midst of highly skilled individuals from the best of the best institutions in the country was very refreshing and rewarding. The culture of accountability, the strive to being the best was cultivated early on in my career. This really helped me as I advanced in my medicinal chemistry career now at Bristol Myers Squibb, “said Donald.
Donald is currently a research fellow at Bristol Myers Squibb in New Jersey, where he is spending his time coming up the next breakthrough therapies in cardiology.