George D. Behrakis Endowed Chair at Northeastern and Founder and Director of the Center for Drug Discovery
Alexandros Makriyannis, George D. Behrakis Endowed Chair at Northeastern and Founder and Director of the Center for Drug Discovery
by Gwen Schanker

Alexandros Makriyannis, George D. Behrakis Endowed Chair at Northeastern and Founder and Director of the Center for Drug Discovery (CDD), has received the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists (AAPS) Distinguished Pharmaceutical Scientist Award for 2015. This award is part of a long line of accomplishments for Makriyannis, who has published over 500 papers and has over 50 patents in the field of medicinal chemistry.

“I’m very honored because it recognizes a lot of the work I have done over my career,” said Makriyannis of the honor, which the AAPS presents to just one individual every two years. “It’s always good to receive recognition from your peers.”

Makriyannis’ own research centers on elucidating, and developing compounds that target the endocannabinoid system, a receptor system in the brain and body involved in regulating pain, cognition and homeostasis among other functions. Makriyannis and his team have designed a number of important probes now widely used in drug development. Makriyannis has received both national and international recognition for his work.

The work Makriyannis leads at the CDD addresses a large range of disorders, from liver disease to Alzheimer’s. Makriyannis feels the center is productive primarily because it allows a number of different fields in science to interface.

“A multidisciplinary approach has a lot of advantages,” he said. “The area of drug discovery involves a lot of branches of science and to discover a new drug, you need to employ all of these different disciplines.”

The research is moving forward at an impressive speed. Two novel medications developed by researchers at the center are in preclinical development, one addressing neuropathy and the other hempatic (liver) injury.

Makriyannis stressed the important role the center plays in enriching the scientific training of the students that volunteer there, both at the undergraduate and graduate level.

“This is a place where students are educated,” he said. “The most rewarding part of what I do here is that I’m able to work with young people and participate in their education to become scientists.”

The AAPS calls Makriyannis a “creative pioneer” in the field, recognizing him for the originality of his work. Makriyannis’ success can be explained largely by what motivates him: the ever-present sense of discovery and collaboration in the scientific community, which he works to dispel throughout the CDD at Northeastern.

“Whenever you make a new discovery, there’s a state of elation,” he said. “You’re happy something new is found and you’re happy you’re sharing it with others.”