Symposium in Honor of Kay Brummond, Recipient of the 2021 ACS Award for Encouraging Women into Careers in the Chemical Sciences

by Anna W. Sromek and Despina Strong

A symposium in honor of Professor Kay Brummond, recipient of the 2021 ACS Award for Encouraging Women into Careers in the Chemical Sciences, was held at the ACS Spring National Meeting on April 7, 2021. The speakers were highly accomplished women chemists at different stages of their careers, who count Professor Brummond as a positive influence on their careers, and the careers of women in chemistry as a whole.

The first speaker, Shana Sturla, recounted first meeting Professor Brummond during her time as a graduate student in Professor Buchwald’s group at MIT in the mid 1990’s, especially noting Professor Brummond’s encouraging and supportive attitude, the impact of their meeting early in her career, and the beginning of her research interest in acylfulvenes. Professor Sturla’s talk, “Striking at Cancer Genomes with Chemistry Arrows”, discussed chemical- and drug-induced DNA damage, response to such damage, the larger effects on the genome and cellular response, and “biomarkers” for diagnosis toward the prevention and treatment of cancers.

Margaret Paul, Vice President of Process Development at Amgen, also first met Professor Brummond in the mid 1990’s while at Eli Lilly. Since then, Dr. Paul’s and Professor Brummond’s careers have been intertwined in a collaboration between academia and industry, and that teamwork was, and continued to be, an essential component. Dr. Paul commented on women in chemistry in a historical perspective and stressed the importance of encouraging and promoting all aspects of diversity in chemistry and pharma. Dr. Paul’s talk, “Building Complexity through Innovation to Deliver Novel Therapeutics”, focused on the evolution of drug development to pursue larger and more complex molecules as therapeutics. This shift also depends on building in favorable physical and pharmacological characteristics while harnessing innovative synthetic methods, including green chemistry and flow chemistry, to improve the success of these molecules as drugs. AMG 397 was discussed, which was developed by women chemists at Amgen.

The third speaker was Professor Fatima Rivas, an early career faculty member at Louisiana State University. Professor Rivas talked about the first time she met Professor Brummond at Telluride, at a symposium on accelerating reaction discovery. Professor Rivas’ talk, “Natural Products as Selective Modulators of Adipogenesis”, focused on the role of glucocorticoids in metabolic syndrome related disorders, e.g., insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Her approach involves regulating intracellular glucocorticoid levels by targeting the enzymes involved in their biosynthesis: 11-β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1 and 2 (11-β-HSD-1 and 2). 11-β-HSD-1 is inhibited by the natural product colletoic acid; Professor Rivas discussed her group’s ongoing efforts and progress in developing more potent and selective analogs of this molecule.

The fourth speaker, Professor Renã Robinson, was a colleague of Professor Brummond’s at the University of Pittsburgh Department of Chemistry during the beginning of her academic career. Professor Robinson has since moved to Vanderbilt University, where she is the Dorothy Wingfield Phillips Chancellor’s Faculty Fellow. She talked about how Professor Brummond supported and encouraged her to “fight like your life depends on it and write to get this one funded”, when writing her first R01 grant application. Professor Robinson presented “Proteomics as a Tool to Study Disparities in Alzheimer’s Disease”. Because our knowledge of the etiology of Alzheimer’s disease is based on the cohort of white and European subjects, and because this disease affects African Americans and Hispanics at a higher rate than the white population, Professor Robinson focuses on investigating differences in protein expression as contributing factors.

Jamie McCabe Dunn, Director of Process Chemistry at Merck was the last invited speaker. Dr. McCabe Dunn’s talk, “Realizing the Benefits of Women Mentors, Sponsors, and Role Models in STEM” charted her path to her present job. She talked about her first role model that influenced her pursuit of chemistry, her high school hockey coach who was also her chemistry teacher. Dr. McCabe Dunn was a graduate student in Professor Brummond’s group, and credits Professor Brummond with convincing her not to leave her industry job after her second child. Her talk segued into a discussion about Sugammadex, a chelating drug used to aid the removal of a paralyzing agent after surgery. In response to increasing demand, Dr. McCabe Dunn discussed the process chemistry improvements that were used to produce larger quantities of this drug more efficiently.

The keynote speaker of the symposium was Professor Kay Brummond. She began by thanking the speakers for their friendship, sponsorship, allyship, and encouragement. Professor Brummond also said she was humbled to receive the award, and to be in the company of many notable recipients, and that in spite of the progress that has been achieved so far, much still remains to be done to achieve parity for women in the sciences. Professor Brummond’s talk on the “Mechanism and Origins of Enantioselectivity in the Rh(I)-Catalyzed Pauson Khand Reaction” focused on an area in organic chemistry which she developed. She highlighted her students and postdocs over the years and noted that her group had a majority of female graduate students, signifying her commitment to supporting women in the sciences. Professor Brummond is committed to supporting her students’ success beyond graduation.

The symposium was a celebration of Professor Brummond’s support and encouragement of women chemists throughout her career and highlighted a sampling of women in chemistry out of many who were positively influenced by her. The symposium emphasized the highly positive impact such mentoring and support can have on women and on chemistry as a whole.

The WCC congratulates and salutes Dr. Brummond for her career and for her dedication to supporting women in the chemical sciences.

Article by Anna Sromek