Mount Kenya University honours top Kenyan scientist

By James Wakahiu
Mount Kenya University conferred a honorary Doctorate Degree in Pharmaceutical Science to a renowned Kenyan Global Scientist during the university 6th graduation ceremony held at its graduation pavilion at Happy Valley Estate Grounds on July 25, 2014.

Dr Frank George Njoroge was born in Kamuchege Village, Githunguri District in Kiambu County. His mother is Alice Nyaucha while his father was the late Muiruri Laban Kimungu.

 He was educated at Kamuchege and Kiawairia Primary schools before proceeding to Thika High School where he took Chemistry and Biology.

 His star started shining at the University of Nairobi where he came top of his class with a First Class honours degree in Chemistry. His next stop was Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio from where he graduated with a Master of Science degree in Chemistry in 1983.

He took record time to graduate with a PhD in Organic Chemistry in 1985 in the same university - less than two years after his Masters degree.

 Armed with ample knowledge, Dr Njoroge quickly got into drugs research.

 Between 1985 and 1987, as a Research Associate in the Institute of Pathology, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland Ohio with Prof Vincent Monnier, they established the relevance of the Maillard Reaction (browning) in complications associated with diabetes and aging processes.

  In 1988 as a Senior Research Associate in the same university, he established major agents involved in cross-linking of proteins in diabetic and aging people which provided important bio-markers for evaluating disease progression.

 Nothing would stop the momentum of the young and motivated scientist who was on a mission to save the world of its deadliest diseases. His tireless efforts started paying off since as a Principal Scientist and Senior Principal Scientist between 1991 and 2000, he was very successful in leading the way to the discovery of a farnesyl transferase inhibitor (SARASAR) for cancer indication which advanced all the way to Phase III clinical trials.

Although studies for this compound were halted at an advanced stage, it is now being extensively investigated for treatment of progeria, a rare disease that affects toddlers by accelerating their aging process.

 After the significant contribution in the cancer field, at Schering-Plough Research Institute New Jersey, in 2000, he was promoted to the position of Associate Director, Medicinal Chemistry and then as the Director, where he embarked on a journey to discover drugs that would treat the deadly hepatitis C disease.

After years of intense scientific work, together with his group, they discovered Victre1is, a very important molecule that treated this disease in a remarkable way. On May 13th 2011, Victrelis TM was approved by the Food and Drug Administration Agency (FDA) as the first protease inhibitor to treat hepatitis C disease. The medicine has been used to treat thousands of patients who would have otherwise died from this deadly disease.

 

The world had to then notice this great scientist. He was Inducted to the ‘Hall of Fame’ as 2012 Hero of Chemistry and awarded the Heros of Chemistry Award by the American Chemical Society for the discovery of hepatitis C drug and named one of the ‘25 most influential Africans in America’ by The Sun Times in 2012, no mean feat for a Kenyan among millions of African Americans.

 He has received other numerous awards including Schering-Plough Research Institute’s President Award for the Discovery and Development of Non-Peptide Tricyclic Inhibitors of Farnesyl Protein Transferase; Black Achievers Award for Excellence in Research for Anti-cancer Drugs; New Jersey Minority Achievers Award for Cutting Edge Research into Life Threatening Diseases such as Cancer and Hepatitis C; Schering—Plough Research Institute’s President Award for the Discovery and Development of an Orally Rio- available NS3 Protease Inhibitor for Treatment of Hepatitis C Infections  through  Structure-assisted Design; Emerald Award for Professional Achievement in industry; Shining Performance Award (Shared Accountability and Transparency, Cross-Functional Teamwork and Collaboration, Business Integrity: Kilo synthesis of RLC recommended HCV Inhibitor, Sch 772502); Top Minority in Research Science- Science Spectrum Trailblazer:  Value Enhancement initiative (VEI Wins) award for executional excellence in customer value  enhancement:  Thomas Alva Edison Patent Award for US patent number 7,012,066 Novel Peptides as NS3-Serine Protease Inhibitors of Hepatitis C, an award named after the famous scientist who discovered the light bulb. He was also honored with the Sapa Community Service Award by the Chinese professionals in USA.

 

Dr Njoroge has published extensively in professional journals on synthetic organic chemistry and drug design. He is an author or co-author of 129 scientific publications and 90 granted US patents.

 Sales of Victrelis TM (boceprevir), the Merck Company’s oral hepatitis C virus protease inhibitor, grew to $ 115 million (Sh10.235 billion) in the quarter of 2013 versus $ 87 million (Sh 7.743 billion) in 2012 as the product continued to be launched. Global sales for the full year 2012 were $ 502 million (Sh44.678 billion). VictrelisTM is approved in 69 countries and has been launched in

34 markets.

 After his great discoveries at Merck, Dr Njoroge was invited by Eli Lilly and Company, another one of the multinational pharmaceutical companies, to oversee their discovery operation as Senior Research Fellow.

  His long term vision is to start a Life Science Centre with Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical focus that would have a combined collaboration between United States of America (USA) and Kenya, whereby some of the sophisticated research would be done in the USA while the more labour-intensive work would be done in Kenya. This would facilitate the provision of greatly needed jobs to both US and Kenyan citizens.

 "To our Son the Great Organic - Chemist, Science Hero, Prominent Researcher, Drug Designer, Pharmaceutical Entrepreneur and Patriot, we award the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Pharmaceutical Science," declared MKU’s Chancellor, Prof Wulsin as she conferred the degree to the recipient amid wild cheers from the gathering.

In his acceptance speech, Dr Njoroge thanked MKU for the award of the honorary degree. “Thank you to MKU for making me feel appreciated – especially in my own country!  Thank you Graduands for the endurance that you have demonstrated in successfully completing your studies and thus, providing me with the opportunity to come all the way from United States and celebrate this event with you. To all, I graciously accept the MKU Honorary Degree award,” said Dr Njoroge amid thunderous cheers from the crowd.

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