Cragg wins ABC research award

Cragg wins ABC research award

Norman R. Farnsworth Excellence in Botanical Research Award goes to Gordon M. Cragg, former research director of the National Cancer Institute. 

The American Botanical Council (ABC) recognizes Gordon M. Cragg, PhD, of Bethesda, Md., as the recipient of the ABC Norman R. Farnsworth Excellence in Botanical Research Award for 2013. Dr. Cragg is a former research director of the US National Cancer Institute (NCI), where he was involved in the NCI’s search for new cancer medicines from plants and other natural sources. ABC presents this award each year to a person who or an institution that has made significant contributions to ethnobotanical and/or pharmacognostic research (i.e., research on drugs of natural origin, usually from plants).

Dr. Cragg spent the majority of his professional career at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Cancer Institute. He was appointed chief of the NCI’s Natural Products Branch (NPB) in 1989; he officially retired in 2004, but has remained highly active with the department as an NIH Special Volunteer. During his time at the NPB, Dr. Cragg received three NIH Awards of Merit for his efforts: for his contributions to the development of the highly successful anticancer drug Taxol and related derivative compounds; for his leadership in establishing international collaborative research in biodiversity and natural products drug discovery; and for his teaching contributions to NIH technology transfer courses. 

After growing up in rural South Africa, Dr. Cragg earned his BSc in chemistry from Rhodes University in 1957. He attended the University of Oxford for a PhD in organic chemistry, after which he completed a postdoctoral fellowship at UCLA, focusing on the biosynthesis of plant hormones.

Throughout his career, Dr. Cragg has advocated for natural products research and worked to protect the source materials for drug discovery. For example, Dr. Cragg’s commitment to responsible natural products research is evident in his work in Brazil. He contributed to the development of natural product chemistry programs in the northeast and southeast regions of the country. Furthermore, he played a pivotal role in an initiative to protect the country’s biodiversity and sustainability efforts that led to the exploration of new potential pharmaceutical, cosmetic, and agrochemical products. 

Dr. Cragg was elected president of the American Society of Pharmacognosy in 1998 and subsequently became an honorary member of the society in 2003. In 2010, Dr. Cragg was presented with the William L. Brown Award for Excellence in Genetic Resource Conservation by the Missouri Botanical Garden; during the symposium held in honor of the award, a newly discovered Madagascan plant—Ludia craggiana—was named for Dr. Cragg. 

“Gordon Cragg is recognized around the world as a leading figure in the efforts to discover new anticancer drugs from plants and other natural materials,” said Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of ABC. “He has a reputation of being a first-class scientist, a friendly collaborator, and an empowering mentor to other researchers. ABC is honored to recognize Dr. Cragg with the annual ABC Norman R. Farnsworth Excellence in Botanical Research Award.”

The Excellence in Botanical Research Award’s namesake is ABC’s co-founding Board of Trustees member, the late Professor Norman R. Farnsworth, PhD, a research professor of pharmacognosy and senior university scholar in the College of Pharmacy at the University of Illinois—Chicago. 

“The naming of the award after Professor Norman Farnsworth is of huge significance to me,” wrote Dr. Cragg. “I had the pleasure and privilege of being associated with his dynamic leadership and research in the area of drug discovery from plants and other natural sources for well over 20 years, and his contributions to the National Cancer Institute natural products program over many decades were outstanding. He was truly a giant in our field of research!

“[Mark Blumenthal and his] colleagues at the American Botanical Council have been highly effective advocates and spokespeople for the essential role played by medicinal plants and phytomedicines in healthcare worldwide,” continued Dr. Cragg, “and I wish to thank [Mark] and the Awards Committee of the ABC Board of Trustees most sincerely for bestowing this tremendous honor on me. It is a great pleasure for me to accept this prestigious award, and I feel truly humbled to be joining the group of eminent scientists who have been previous recipients of the award.”

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