Alexan­dros Makriyannis, the founding director of Northeastern’s Center for Drug Dis­covery, has received the annual Award in Med­i­c­inal Chem­istry from the Amer­ican Chem­ical Society. Makriyannis, whose award pro­pelled him into the society’s Hall of Fame along­side other pio­neers of med­i­c­inal chem­istry, will address his col­leagues at the 33rd National Med­i­c­inal Chem­istry Sym­po­sium in Tucson in May.

It’s a pres­ti­gious award and I’m very happy to get it,” said Makriyannis, the George D. Behrakis Chair in Phar­ma­ceu­tical Biotech­nology who holds joint appoint­ments in the Col­lege of Sci­ence and the Bouvé Col­lege of Health Sci­ences.

The Reac­tion Times, a monthly newsletter for the chem­ical society, called Makriyannis a “very inven­tive and highly pro­lific” researcher, whose 40-​​year career began with inventing methods for the dis­covery of new med­ica­tions and over the past 25 years has been devel­oping med­i­cines based on the cannabi­noids, the com­pounds found in cannabis.

Cannabis is a plant that soci­eties have used for ther­a­peutic pur­poses for over two mil­lennia,” Makriyannis said.  But despite its long his­tory, it wasn’t until the late 1980s that sci­en­tists began to under­stand how cannabi­noids work. Through their research, Makriyannis and his col­leagues unex­pect­edly dis­cov­ered an entire, pre­vi­ously unknown phys­i­o­log­ical system in the human body that is serendip­i­tously respon­sive to the plant compounds.

The endo­cannabi­noid system is a whole intri­cate net­work of bio­chem­ical effects,” Makriyannis explained, noting that plant-​​produced cannabi­noids mimic the behavior of endo­cannabi­noids and give the system its name. “It includes two recep­tors and a variety of enzymes and has its own endoge­nously pro­duced mol­e­cules, the endo­cannabi­noids, that con­trol its function.”

One of its key roles is to main­tain home­ostasis in the body, thereby impli­cating a variety of dis­ease areas. Makriyannis has spent the latter half of his career exploring its effects on neu­ro­pathic pain, meta­bolic dis­or­ders and neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­eases, each of which mod­u­late the endo­cannabi­noid system, but in very dif­ferent ways.

In the case of obe­sity and related meta­bolic dis­or­ders, for example, the system is hyper­ac­tive. Makriyannis and his team have cre­ated a weight-​​loss drug can­di­date that sta­bi­lizes the system without the side effects of stan­dard therapies.

Makriyannis’ work with the endo­cannabi­noid system is but one area of research sup­ported by the Center for Drug Dis­covery. The inter­dis­ci­pli­nary team of more than 50 PhD Stu­dents, post-​​doctoral researchers and senior fac­ulty mem­bers is ded­i­cated to the dis­covery of novel med­ica­tions and to the devel­op­ment of approaches and tech­nolo­gies aimed at improving the dis­covery of new ther­a­peutic drugs.

Makriyannis founded the Center, which aligns with Northeastern’s focus on use-​​inspired research that solves global chal­lenges in health, secu­rity and sus­tain­ability, in 1997 at the Uni­ver­sity of Con­necticut and brought it with him to North­eastern when he joined the fac­ulty in 2005.