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Department of Chemistry

Ray Finlay image courtesy of AstraZeneca

Chemistry alumnus Dr Ray Finlay has been chosen by the American Chemical Society (ACS) as a Hero of Chemistry.

The annual award recognises talented industrial chemical scientists whose work has led to the development of successful commercialised products which benefit humankind.

Ray Finlay is one of four scientists from AstraZeneca who were honoured for their development of Tagrisso™, a new, specialised treatment for patients with EGFR-mutated non-small cell lung cancer.  The other AstraZeneca awardees are Sam Butterworth, Richard Ward and Michael Waring.

Ray completed his PhD in synthetic organic chemistry under Professor Ian Paterson here in 1997, focusing on applying synthetic methodology developed in the group to the synthesis of natural products.  Ray says of his time in Cambridge: “I mostly remember feeling very lucky to have access to world class facilities and being part of a highly motivated and talented research group.  Friday evenings at the Panton Arms were also a highlight!”

Professor Paterson said: “It’s wonderful to see Ray getting this well-deserved kudos for the design and synthesis of this breakthrough AstraZeneca lung cancer drug.  From my perspective, it’s all credit to Ray and other students that have come through my group who have gone on to make life changing contributions to healthcare in developing effective drugs for unmet clinical needs, particularly cancer and neurodegenerative diseases.”

Ray is a medicinal chemist in the Oncology IMED Biotech Unit of AstraZeneca, which recently moved its research and development unit and global headquarters to the Cambridge Biomedical Campus.  Ray’s role is to design compounds in the discovery “design-make-test-analyse” cycle.

Ray said of the award, “I was a bit surprised, to be honest, but also very pleased that the entire medicinal chemistry team, on whose behalf we were accepting this award, were recognised in this way.”

The AstraZeneca team set out to identify a new series of inhibitors that would selectively target mutations linked to non-small cell lung carcinoma, the most common type of lung cancer.

 “Their persistent and thoughtful approach resulted in the high quality clinical candidate osimertinib, now marketed as Tagrisso™, in less than 36 months,” according to the ACS, which noted that this was an unusually rapid drug discovery timeline.

ACS Industrial Awards celebrate the successful innovations of industrial chemists and chemical engineers. Awards are given to individuals and teams whose creative innovations have contributed to the commercial success of their company and, consequently, to the good of the community and society.

The ACS said: “We honour these heroes of chemistry from AstraZeneca for their outstanding contributions to science and their service to society.”

AstraZeneca is a global, science-led biopharmaceutical company that focuses on the discovery, development and commercialisation of prescription medicines, primarily for the treatment of diseases in three therapy areas - Oncology, Cardiovascular & Metabolic Diseases and Respiratory. The Company also is selectively active in the areas of autoimmunity, neuroscience and infection. AstraZeneca operates in over 100 countries and its innovative medicines are used by millions of patients worldwide.